While the death of print news was predicted awhile ago, the reality is that it's suffering a long, slow, painful and tedious spiral into oblivion. However, within that spiral there is a lot of analysis. And it's a lot more than just rearranging deck chairs on the Titantic. It's about insight into the changing face of news in a digital era. In its State of the News Media 2008: An Annual Report on American Journalism released by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, more than 250 newspapers participated in the examination of the changing nature of the resources in American newspaper newsrooms at a critical and pivotal time.

The Survival Theme

Among the results, which highlighted declines in circulation, advertising revenues and staff, as well as increases in online audiences and revenues, the perpetual theme is survival. The news industry is far more concerned with surviving the present than it is with developing more effective plans for the future. Immediate changes affecting news media include:

Cutbacks in Staffing

Fully 85% of the dailies surveyed with circulations over 100,000 have cut newsroom staff in the last three years, while only 52% of smaller papers reported cuts. The survey also found that more than half of the editors at larger papers and a third at smaller ones expect more cutbacks in the next year.

Reduced Size and Space

Papers both large and small have reduced the space, resources and commitment devoted to a range of topics. Nearly two thirds of papers surveyed have cut back on foreign news, over half have trimmed national news and more than a third have reduced business coverage.

Newsroom Culture

New job demands are drawing a generation of young, versatile, tech-savvy, high-energy staff as financial pressures drive out higher-salaried veteran reporters and editors. Competitive energy is on the rise with younger, eager staffs, but at the expense of waning institutional memory.

Newspaper Websites

Many editors (48%) report feeling conflicted by the trade-offs between the speed, depth and interactivity of the web and what those benefits are costing in terms of accuracy and journalistic standards. However, 43% think that “web technology offers the potential for greater-than-ever journalism and will be the savior of what we once thought of as newspaper newsrooms.”

The Silver Lining

Yet despite such dismal behaviors and scenarios, optimism about journalistic integrity and quality still shines through. Even at the height of citizen journalism, a majority of editors think their news product is better than it was three years earlier. Other silver linings offered up by those included in the report include:

Innovation

The news industry now appears to be taking to new technology seriously. Sites are evolving quickly and, in a new development, the mainstream media are now among the more experimental players. As well, more media sites are dismantling their “walled gardens” and having the courage to link to outside sources or even inviting in third-party content.

Citizen Journalism

Web sites run by citizen journalists are multiplying, approaching 1,500 heading into 2008 – offering stories, blogs and videos. Once thought to have had the ability to replace journalists, it is now seen as "an essential ingredient for the website and newspaper of the future." So what is the future of new media? It seems to be what we knew all along, that the future of journalism will be one that takes advantage of the technology rather than fights it. But how and when this happens is the million dollar question. A question, whose answer may result in the decline of news media as we know it and the resurrection of shiny new media.