A growing number of newspaper journalists feel that management's
embracing of a "market-driven" business strategy threatens their professionalism
and conflicts with the historical role of newspapers in the American democracy.
This critical analysis discusses how "market-driven" journalism has
redefined news values and negatively affected newspaper journalists' job
Many journalists believe management is asking for fundamental changes
in the practice of journalism. These changes -- the journalist as a business
agent, smaller newsroom staffs, and less resources with which to work --
increasingly show management and journalists have conflicting agendas.
Journalists in the United States perform their jobs under the premise
the media is "free," with the concept of press freedom guaranteed by the First
Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This definition of freedom, however, extends
only so far as freedom is concerned vis-a-vis government. This definition
does not consider the institutional requirements and restraints placed on
journalists by the media corporations for which they work. There is strong
evidence that newspaper journalists are not as satisfied in their jobs as they
used to be, and much of their dissatisfaction is with management and shrinking
Meanwhile, newspaper management strategy has been changing in the
1990s to a more "market-driven" approach, which has changed, and continues to
change, the role of journalists and journalism. Some journalists have
rebelled against market-driven management principles, and several "big-name"
editors have left their jobs in recent years, publicly complaining about the
"corporatization" of the newspaper business. These big-name editors are
joined by many lesser-known journalists who feel newspapers are giving up their
historical roles of government watchdog and purveyors of truth and adapting
their content to attract new advertisers and customers from specific demographic
groups in their retail and marketing zones. On the other hand, management,
and increasingly editors, are embracing the market-driven approach as a
necessary means of keeping newspapers competitive and profitable in a changing
The ideas for this research evolved from an interest in individual
freedom or autonomy, and how autonomy may be affected by changing
management directives and goals. Freedom and autonomy are hard terms to define;
however, some researchers have attempted to operationalize definitions, and
several traits as they apply to journalists and job satisfaction remain
consistent. Freedom and autonomy are important indicators of job
satisfaction. Journalists are happier when: they are free from institutional
restraints on their professionalism; they feel they have a meaningful say in
decisions; and they get feedback and support -- but not too much supervision --
from their superiors.
Just how much institutional freedom a journalist, or anyone employed
by a corporation, should expect is another matter. Journalism has historically
been an occupation or profession that allowed its practitioners a great deal of
freedom; reporters enjoyed little supervision in newsgathering and had
discretion in choosing the news angles and contents of the their stories, while
editors often created their own standards for reportorial quality and ethical
conduct. There is evidence the market-driven approach has cut into
journalism autonomy, as corporations have standardized codes of conduct, and job
performance is increasingly evaluated by employees' abilities to attract new
readers and advertisers. Research shows management changes have been in
response to pressures to maintain advertising revenue and overall profit
margins, which dropped in the early 1990s. Despite these pressures,
however, newspapering remains one of the most profitable retail industries in
the United States.
In this dynamic management environment, it seems appropriate to ask
several questions about the relationship between journalism autonomy
and management goals: How are changing corporate structures and management goals
affecting journalists' autonomy, freedom and job satisfaction? What type of
environment - or how much institutional freedom - should journalists rightfully
expect from their employers? Because newspapers serve an important function of
providing citizens in a democracy with news of their government, does the
newspaper industry have a moral or ethical responsibility above and beyond
making profits? What models of management best serve the newspaper industry and
journalists? Are those models currently being used?
This research is a literature review and critical analysis that mixes
"hard" research from academic journals and "softer" assessments from trade
journals, including writings and interviews with industry experts. This study
attempts to integrate several concepts that are related to journalism autonomy,
corporate responsibility, and the financial viability of the newspaper industry.
This paper shows some factors that indicate job autonomy are in conflict with
the goals of management. It provides a review of management goals and policies,
and an overview of the changes and trends in newspaper management. Lastly, this
paper examines whether the newspaper industry has responsibilities beyond making
money, and whether the satisfaction of its employees and/or the health of the
democracy are realistic factors for newspaper management to consider.
Journalists and job satisfaction
In a longitudinal study of working newspaper journalists, Weaver and
Wilhoit found in 1992 that job satisfaction has declined significantly. Only 25
percent say they are "very satisfied" with their jobs, which is only about half
the rate found in a 1971 study and 40 percent of those studied in 1982.
These figures are in contrast to other studies of job satisfaction among the
national work force and sub-groups (professionals in other fields), which
expressed higher levels of job
satisfaction. The most important factors in job satisfaction are
relatively consistent, and several patterns emerge. Weaver and Wilhoit's 1992
study found the newspaper's "organizational editorial policies," defined as the
aggressiveness and resources with which news staffs may pursue their work, as
the most important factor of job satisfaction, with 66.8 percent of all
journalists indicating it as "very important." This ability of journalists to
feel "free" to pursue stories aggressively is one of several factors that have
consistently ranked high in job satisfaction studies; however, Weaver and
Wilhoit reported it was the top choice of about 10 percentage points more
journalists than in 1982. Journalists identified these important indicators
of job satisfaction (statistic represents the number of journalists say "very
Organizational editorial policies 66.8 percent
Job security 62.0 percent
Chance to help people 58.3 percent
Amount of autonomy 52.9 percent
Chance to develop a specialty 43.7 percent
Chance to influence public affairs 38.8 percent
Fringe benefits 37.5 percent
Chance to get ahead in the organization 35.5 percent
Pay 21.4 percent
The authors also point out that "the chance to help people," "amount
of autonomy," and "chance to influence public affairs" remain consistent factors
of job satisfaction. Several indicators of reporters' autonomy were measured,
including: their discretion to choose which stories on which they work; their
ability to get an important story covered if they suggest it; and freedom to
decide which aspects of the story should be covered. Each indicator showed a
decline in autonomy between 1982-92. Only 38 percent said they have complete
freedom to choose their stories; 56 percent reported they could still get an
important story covered, but that was down from 64 percent a decade earlier; and
only 49 percent said they have almost complete freedom to decide which aspects
of the story to cover, compared with 67 percent in
1982. Conversely, of all journalists studied, less than 20
percent indicated management's pursuit of "good journalistic practice" was a
source of their job satisfaction. The researchers concluded that job
satisfaction was in "significant decline," in part because of a smaller sense of
professional autonomy. They predicted a serious problem of journalist
retention may confront the newspaper industry, as more than 20 percent of all
journalists said they planned to leave the profession within five years, double
the rate from 1982.
In a stratified random national sample of all media workers in
Canada, George Pollard found "workers were most satisfied due to a combination
of intrinsic factors, such as autonomy, authority, and control of work, and
extrinsic factors, such as job security and income." Pollard noted that
newswork is not a profession in the same sense as medicine or law, but
newsworkers do embrace professionalism. And in some professions, perceived
autonomy is the key determinant of job satisfaction. News organizations can
increase job satisfaction by clear job definitions, meaningful employee
participation in decision making, and limited reliance on hierarchal authority
and rule enforcement. Other studies of white-collar professionals have
found that high supervisor control in conjunction with a lack of opportunity to
participate in decision making also impair job satisfaction, and may threaten
employee well-being by leading to job "burnout" and associated psychological and
Of those journalists who are unhappy in their work, a little more
than half singled out management; the criticisms tended to cite management's
tightfisted policies, or too much concern about audience appeal at the expense
Ted Pease, chairman of the journalism department at St. Michael's
College in Vermont, found in a 1990 study of 1,328 journalists that reporters
were very critical of management. "Regardless of race, color, creed or sex,
people say horrible things about their managers," Pease said. "It's not just
dissatisfaction; there's real anger about mismanagement."
Pease's study included 28 newspapers ranging in size from
50,000-circulation to major metropolitan dailies, and he also found "mounting
hostility between reporters and editors." Masher interviewed 177
journalists in the San Francisco area in 1989 and found only one who had
positive comments about editorial management. Johnstone in 1976 attributed
lower job satisfaction to organizational growth and centralization leading to
less contact with editors, lower editorial autonomy and stricter authority
structures. Interaction with and feedback from superiors has been shown to
be an indicator of job satisfaction in several studies, with Bergen and Weaver
in 1988 finding it was the second most important predictor in job
satisfaction, and Weaver and Wilhoit also finding it the second most
important predictor of satisfaction in 1992. Pease found reporters
complained that editors do little to train them, often leaving them feeling
"pigeonholed." Joseph, in a 1982 national study, found that reporters
desire more participation in decision making then editors would like them to
have. Editors perceive a need to be better trained, Bennett concluded after
his 1985 study of managing editors in California. Bennett found editors were
more confident in their journalistic skills than their management skills, and
editors generally felt a need for "the education and training necessary for
managers to efficiently guide newsroom operations, management
strategies and motivation of employees."
Many editors (some of whom are considered management) echo the
dissatisfaction of reporters toward management by pointing their frustrations at
what they view as a change in management philosophy and policy away from
producing quality journalism and toward increased marketing and promotion. Some
editors complain they have been pressured by publishers to serve on "marketing
committees," which take away from their time and concentration on improving the
quality of journalism. University of Washington Professor Doug Underwood,
after extended interviews with 50 working reporters and editors from across the
nation in 1988, concluded, "I find a lot who believe that profit pressures and
the corporate ethic are fundamentally transforming - and not for the better -
the nature of the newspaper business as generations of reporters and editors
have known it."
Some media critics contend the growing dominance of newspaper groups,
or "chains," has quickened the transition from competitive to monopoly markets,
which has resulted in poorer quality newspapers. Other critics assert that
publicly-owned companies, which include most of the country's largest newspaper
chains, have lost their journalistic path in pursuit of high profits to please
Wall Street analysts and stockholders. William Winter, president and
executive director of American Press Institute, a professional and educational
development center, says he senses frustration among the editors who attend
The rules have changed in the middle of the game. The editor has
become more of business person. A lot of editors came up through
rooms when the job was much more focused on the news product than
is today. Many were not trained in business-side procedures, and
particularly enjoy them. So they are feeling this tension.
Ben Burns, an aggressive newspaperman with a reputation for
irreverence, was a the executive editor of The Detroit News until the Gannett
Corp. bought it
and demoted him. Burns, who has since left the newspaper business to
teach, doesn't hide his feelings about what he sees happening. "Modern
corporation management and packaging theories are sapping the vitality of
creative editors and reporters." A more moderate, but similar, view comes
from well-respected reporter Gene Miller, who has worked at the Miami Herald
since 1957. At 66, he continues to work, but sees a change in newspapering. "I
have a good time, I work good stories. But things are different. Knight-Ridder's
terribly schizophrenic - they speak of quality and talk of profits. They're so
interested in money, and that's not why I became a newspaper man."
Carl Sessions Stepp, a professor at the University of Maryland,
predicts the recent changes in management goals may mark an historic period of
journalism. He writes there is a type of "brain drain" going on in the
profession, and some of the nation's best journalists and editors have left
newspapering in recent years, disgruntled that the push for profits has taken
precedence over the desire to produce good newspapers. Gene Roberts, who
resigned in 1990 from Knight-Ridder's Philadelphia Inquirer over budget battles,
was the Inquirer's editor while it became one of the nation's most
highly-respected and awarded newspapers. Jim Squires, long-time editor of the
Chicago Tribune, resigned in 1989 for similar reasons. And more recently,
Geneva Overholser's early 1995 public departure from Gannett's Des Moines
Register surprised many media experts, who felt Overholser was one of the
company's rising stars. Her resignation angered many Register readers, who
wondered whether the paper's downsizing was good for Iowans who had viewed it as
a statewide publication. Overholser, who has since become ombudsman for the
Washington Post, was asked why her resignation got so much attention among
industry professionals. "I think the big thing is I say what I think.... So I
left and a lot of people identified with me. I can't tell you how much mail I
got from editors saying, 'Oh, the economic pressures are horrible. I can hardly
stand it.' And then, they'd say things at the end like, 'P.S. don't quote
Business ethics and institutional models
Should journalists expect different conditions under which to work?
Do newspaper companies have a responsibility to their employees and the health
of the democracy? The debate of how companies should balance their drive for
profits with responsibility to their employees and society is an old argument
that takes shape along a continuum; one end of the argument is businesses are
"above" ordinary ethics and driven by profits, and the other extreme is
businesses need to be responsible to the overall well-being of society.
Well-known economist Milton Friedman argues passionately against
businesses having any social responsibility, claiming the support for such an
anchor on business "shows a fundamental misconception of the character and
nature of a free economy." Friedman says as long a company "stays within
the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in free and open competition,
without deception or fraud" it is ethical, and its primary interest should be to
stockholders or members. Friedman acknowledges the notion of
responsibility, but questions if business could figure out what constitutes
public interest. "Can self-elected private individuals decide what the social
interest is? Can they decide how great a burden they are justified in placing on
themselves and their stockholders?" The economist embraces the virtues of
Adam Smith's philosophy that by pursuing one's own interests the environment
around one - or the society - improves for all. Albert Carr frowns on
responsibility more than Friedman, as Carr suggests an "ends justifies the
means" strategy of bluffing in poker as a model for understanding business
ethics. Carr argues, in short, that business has a set of ethics all its own,
and "bluffing" in business - as in poker - is an accepted practice because
to be falsehood when it is understood on all sides." Carr
contends any businesses that operate by ordinary moral standards are at a
decided disadvantage. The rules of business are largely determined by whatever
current practices tend to be successful within the regulation of government.
Toward the other end of the continuum, Melvin Anshen asserts that
conducting business is not a natural right, but a matter of privilege, "or
contractual right," granted by society. Anshen, like Friedman, says his
ideas have their roots in Adam Smith's - that non-fraudulent pursuit of private
interests will enhance the public good. But Anshen differs from Friedman in that
he claims business has broken the rules by making its own, and since the result
of business operating under its own rules has not been a social gain, the
original "contract" is void. Anshen argues business' drives for profits have
come at the expense of the environment, the poor and underemployed, and society
in general. Anshen predicts the drive for profits without responsibility
will change because "the recognition is spreading rapidly that its continuance
is intolerable," and he suggests businesses would be wise to consider how these
changes will happen before they become subjected to controlling forces outside
the business world.
John Danley also takes issue with Friedman and Carr, and argues
corporations are more like machines than people, so they may operate under their
own sets of rules. However, Danley says society should treat corporations as if
they are machines: when one goes awry, society should blame its creators or
operators. This idea, Danley says, is not widely practiced in society, as
corporate officials are seldom held personally accountable for the actions or
failings of their corporations. Punishing a corporation through fines for
regulatory infractions does not punish the infraction or those executives
responsible for it, Danley writes. Usually a fine punishes the stockholders in
terms of lower profits or dividends,
even though the stockholders have little direct control over corporate
actions. Only when those people responsible (business owners, directors,
and management) are made accountable for corporate acts will corporations become
responsible. Danley concludes:
If a complicated machine got out of hand and ravaged a community,
there seems something perverse about expressing our moral outrage
indignation to the machine. More appropriately, our fervor should
addressed to the operators and to the designers of the machine.
not the machines, are morally responsible.
Norman Chase Gillespie also argues that people are ultimately
responsible for the actions of business, but his perspective is different than
Danley's. Gillespie says businesses should go by similar rules as people in
society, and individuals in business have a sense of duty that transcends
business. The business world can be responsible and adopt change that benefits
business and society by asking what businesses ought to do, as opposed to what
businesses are doing (Gillespie's emphasis). Gillespie writes even though
businesses operate by their own set of rules, that does not mean this is the way
things ought to be. The ethical dilemma for the individual, Gillespie argues, is
to weigh the consequences for acting in a manner consistent with the way things
ought to be:
When virtually everyone is not doing what ought to be done, if
what we can morally expect of any one individual. That person does
have the duty to 'buck the tide' if doing so will cause individual
or not do any good. But, in conjunction with everyone else, that
ought to be acting differently. So the tension one may feel
what one does and what one ought to do is quite real and entirely
The question of who is accountable for corporate actions makes it
even more difficult for a person in a corporation to "blow the whistle" to put a
stop to unethical or deceitful business practices. Gene G. James says corporate
structures are set up in a manner that makes it extremely difficult to determine
who is responsible for decisions. For example, top management formulates
policies but doesn't enforce them, that job is for lower management. Further,
lower management and
employees on the bottom of the chain of authority don't make
decisions, they follow policy. Hence, James argues, the employees who feel
bound to carry out questionable practices do not feel responsible for them
because they are "simply carrying out orders." And, at the same time, those at
the top feel no responsibility either because they didn't implement any
action. It's this lack of structural accountability that James uses as a
moral justification of whistle blowing. "We have a duty to prevent harm and
injustice to others, which holds even though we are members of organizations, we
have a prima facie obligation to disclose organizational wrongdoing we can not
prevent." However, moral justification is not much solace when the
corporation's response is to punish the whistle blower, which is often what
Becoming a whistle blower is not a likely scenario for most corporate
employees; however, all individuals need to assess their relationships with the
organizations in which they're involved, writes D. Don Welch. Individuals need
weigh the agenda of the organizations of which they are a part, and
relate these agendas to their own:
We decide and act both as individuals and members of larger
We play these roles in the same instant, and sometimes these roles
conflict. These dual roles are not a matter of acting as a group
on one occasion and and as my 'real self' on another. My 'real
comes out of those groups to which I belong.
Welch applies this idea to the thoughts of Alasdair MacIntyre, who
said human transactions occur in our conversations. Welch says MacIntyre would
say individual people create their own stories in life, but only as co-authors.
"We find our identity and create our personal agendas in and through the
communities that surround us," Welch writes. The challenge of this sense of
community is to engage organizations in a manner that allows the personal and
organizational agendas to co-exist. This task is complicated when culture's
"language of morality" is
in grave disorder. But, Welch asserts, "The remedy for such disorder
is not to abandon conversation, but to get better at it." Welch concludes
his book by imploring readers not to lose themselves in the institutions of
which they are a part:
The notion is that our grappling with value conflicts should emerge
from a centered self, from a person maintaining some ethical
ticity.... Thus, when responding to institutional expectations,
choices made should give evidence of, as well as preserve and
one's sense of self. A core of our selves exists among the
Newspaper managers would be wise to create a management style that
allows individual and institutional agendas to co-exist, advises Fiona A.E.
McQuarrie, a professor at University College of Fraser Valley, British Columbia.
Newsrooms of the 1990s are staffed by well-educated interpreters and
investigators who see themselves as part of a profession, and who value their
freedom and autonomy. Several studies show journalists are motivated by
achievement, power and public service. McQuarrie writes, "Thus, the newsroom
manager is dealing with individuals who resist management control and are driven
by forces of internal satisfaction and commitment to ideals." McQuarrie
studied classical management theories and concluded most are hard to apply to
the media because: (1) some management theories pay minimal attention to workers
being management; (2) some theories construct management according to the
difficulty or complexity of the task; (3) some management theory is based on
production, which is difficult to measure for journalists. McQuarrie
concludes that most management theories aren't applicable to modern newsrooms,
but suggests editors and newsroom managers are likely to be trained by their
companies at some point in management
theory, so understanding the theories and their limitations is
important. In absence of a sound theory to use as a model, McQuarrie
suggests the following approach to newsroom management: be aware, but critical
of management theory; get feedback from the people being managed; know the
limitations of a management style and the individuals asked to adopt it; be
Newspaper ownership and fiscal status
By 1990, about 1,350 of the nation's 1,650 daily newspapers - or more
than 80 percent - were owned by groups, or "chains." Bagdikian blames the
sharp drop in the number of cities that have more than one newspaper on
corporate chains, claiming chain ownership allows a corporation the resources to
undercut advertising prices in some markets to lure ad revenues from
competitors. Once the competitors sell or go out of business, the chain paper
has a monopoly. Bagdikian has chronicled several case studies of Gannett
Corporation's buy out of newspapers, and found after securing a monopoly market
there was a pattern of staff cutbacks, advertising and subscription rate
increases and less news content. Editors were enticed to meet corporate profit
goals with bonuses and discount stock options. Other people argue chains
have benefited many papers by giving them the resources and professionalism of a
large corporation that weren't there when the newspaper was a family or
privately-run business. Media economist and educator Robert Picard reports
that by 1990 nearly 85 percent of the nation's daily circulation belonged to
papers owned by chains, and most of the remaining independent papers are small
newspapers whose profitability does not appeal to groups.
David Demers and Daniel Wackman studied the effect of chain ownership
on management goals, and found that editors at daily-owned newspapers were more
likely to say "profit" is a goal "driving" their organization; however, the
found no evidence suggesting chains were less concerned with "product
quality." Carol Smith's 1987 study suggests that Gannett's corporate
publications are trying to emphasize different themes to different audiences.
Smith studied non-commercial publications from 1980-84 and found the
publications aimed at employees differed with those targeted for stockholders or
advertisements. Seventeen percent of the corporation's ads included the theme of
autonomy, while that theme appeared in 4 percent of the employee-targeted
publications and in 3 percent of stockholder publications. Corporate control was
the theme of 9.2 percent of the employee publications, 7.6 percent of
stockholder-targeted material and 2.4 percent of advertisements. Smith found
these findings significant because prior research had shown corporate
publications to maintain consistent themes. She concluded Gannett is a modern
media company that wants to run newspapers and build financial empires.
Underwood, after extended interviews with journalists and managers, concluded,
"Newspaper executives have reshaped their newspapers in the name of better
marketing, more efficient management, and improvement of the bottom line."
The early 1990s saw decreased profits for many newspapers, and some
of the nation's largest newspapers responded by shrinking news staffs, either
through attrition or layoffs. In 1991, there were 1,200 fewer journalists
working at U.S. daily newspapers than the previous year, marking the first
newsroom work force reduction in 10 years. Newspaper circulation has
remained stagnant while readership has declined steadily since the 1970s.
In November 1995, Knight-Ridder instituted cutbacks at some of its best-known
newspapers, including the Miami Herald and the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily
News, where publisher Robert Hall revealed plans to eliminate 250 full-time
positions and "flatten" management structure. The company cited higher newsprint
costs, lower revenues
and circulation, and striking workers in Detroit.
Newspapering, however, remains an extremely profitable business when
compared to other industries. The 1994 profit margins of the nation's 10 highest
revenue publicly-owned newspapers ranged from 9.4 percent for Times Mirror Co.
to 23.1 percent for Gannett Co. Inc., the average being 16.4 percent. These
figures compare to an average retail profit margin for all products of around 6
to 7 percent. The newspaper companies earning these profits are now among
some of the largest corporations in the nation. Gannett, for example has assets
totaling $3.7 billion, Times Mirror surpasses $4.1 billion, and the Tribune Co.
and Knight-Ridder are also worth more than $2 billion. Picard writes, "Although
not the size of firms such as General Motors, General Electric IBM and Exxon,
the major newspaper companies rank 100-130 in terms of assets, in the range of
companies of companies such as Colgate-Palmolive, General Mills, Kimberly Clark,
Northrup and Ralston-Purina."
Philip Meyer, a journalism professor at the University of North
Carolina, is one of many experts who argues the drive for profits among
publicly-owned newspapers is a long-term threat to the newspaper industry. Meyer
argues that in their push to show profit and please stockholders, public
newspaper companies are playing fast and loose with their most important asset -
their communities' good will. The good will is the paper's reputation in
its community; it is the intangible asset that explains why people read the
newspaper, advertisers place ads in it and people remain loyal to their paper.
Meyer quotes two analysts who agreed this good will represents 80 percent of the
paper's value, although it reflects not a penny in fiscal or stock reports.
Public newspaper companies, by slashing costs and publishing bare-bones
products, are increasingly jeopardizing their communities' trust and good will,
Privately-owned newspapers are also profitable, by their owners'
admissions. However, some chain owners have expressed concern in recent years of
of striving to meet high profit margins. Newspaper chain owner Ralph
Ingersoll II said in 1989, "If we continue to run the 35 percent to 40 percent
margins that we can achieve, or the 55 percent margins that Thomson and Dorney
can achieve, then we will be liquidating our papers." Chain owner Dean
Singleton said, "We have debt to pay. Gannett has dividends to pay stockholders.
There's not much difference. We, as a newspaper industry, are making too much
money. Our margins are too high, and we're taking too much money out, and we've
got to put more money back in."
Current marketing and management policies show most other owners,
directors and stockholders don't feel as compelled as Singleton to take a
smaller cut or reinvest more in their own companies. In fact, the trends seem to
show a renewed effort for maximizing profits, which has resulted in further
corporate belt-tightening, and cuts in news budgets, staff and resources with
which to produce newspapers. Jim Squires, former editor of the Chicago
Tribune, claims the amount of operating expenses granted newspaper news
operations has dropped steadily from between 15-20 percent of total expenditures
in the 1970s to about 9 percent by 1990. Picard places the national average
in 1990 at 7-10 percent.
Amid these shrinking news budgets, newsroom management across the
country is being pushed to embrace a revised operating strategy known as the
"market-driven approach." Robert Giles, author of Newsroom Management: A Guide
to Theory and Practice, argues "the market-driven approach, which increasingly
characterizes the path newspapers are taking, means they are rethinking news
coverage, advertising and hiring. This also means redefining management.
Scholar and educator John McManus asserts the impetus for this change
in strategy has nothing to do with improving the quality of newspapers, and
everything to do with the relationship between investors and the major
media corporations. McManus argues there are four interested parties in the
production of news: news sources, advertisers, consumers and corporate
investors. The major difference in these interests, McManus says, is that
investors are the only interest that can gain influence from within the
organization; the other three interests all try to exert their influence from
outside the corporate structure. He concludes, "The degree of control
exercised by these outside forces, however, rarely matches the influence
investors/owners wield through top management. Of the four trading partners -
consumers, advertisers, sources, and investors - only the last is boss."
Market-driven theory of news production has fundamentally different
goals than the traditional journalistic theory of news production. The
market-driven theory is economically-centered around pleasing advertisers and
attracting the largest possible audiences while minimizing newsroom labor and
production costs, McManus asserts. While media firms seek to attract investors
by showing how tightly organized they are for maximum profits, they seldom spell
out the formula to employees in these terms:
In fact, disguising the economic self-interest of media firms
management. News-workers may be more willing to make sacrifices
in salary, work hours, and personal danger (e.g., covering a riot)
they see themselves serving the public rather than profit. Thus,
although the talk of making money is likely to be rare in market-
driven newsrooms, the logic that drives production routines,
nevertheless, is economic.
Opponents and proponents alike agree that the market-driven approach
has changed the fundamental values of what makes news. Whether one sees these
changes as a matter of improving the newspaper business seems to rest on whether
the primary goal of newspaper corporations is profit or journalism. Giles, who
is also the editor at the Detroit News, a Gannett paper, embraces market-driven
journalism as the future of newspapering. He wrote in 1993 that the strategy
embodies a redefinition of the concept of the customer and a restructuring of
newsroom organization to serve customers' goals. The restructuring will require
journalists to possess a greater marketing intelligence that, in turn, will help
journalists anticipate changes in the customers' needs and react with
effective marketing strategies and sales approaches.
The market-driven strategy will play itself out in newsrooms by
management changing its priorities, Giles says. Fresh attention will be given
to "product development," technology and meeting customers' needs. The value of
journalists to the news operation will be determined by a new formula:
Adding people to the news staff, for example, will not follow the
traditional formula of hiring to meet a demand for more general
age . . . Editors seeking to add staff will be expected to meet a
test: how will the new staffers assist the newspaper to reach new
markets of readers and advertisers it is trying to attract.
McManus is one of a seemingly growing number of critics who argues
market-driven theory undermines what newspapers have traditionally done well -
provide insightful information about events and occurrences with the goal of
improving public discourse while still making money. He argues that under the
market-driven theory the probability of an event becoming news is: inversely
proportional to the harm the information might cause investors or sponsors,
inversely proportional to the cost of uncovering it, inversely proportional to
the cost of reporting it, and directly proportional to the expected extent of
appeal to audiences that advertisers will pay to reach. News content no
longer becomes driven by the social and political consequences of events.
Newspapers and television news shows become "the least expensive mix of content
that protects the interests of the sponsors and investors while garnering the
largest audience advertisers will pay to reach." This formula for
determining content has a negative effect on the level of public discourse,
McManus argues, because "the news media set the frame in which citizens discuss
public events and ... the quality of the debate necessarily depends on the
Many working journalists say these revised management directives and
concepts of news have had a negative effect on morale in newsrooms. A majority
of the journalists who have left the profession in the past half-dozen years
complained of management, and the criticisms tended to cite management's
or too much concern about audience appeal at the expense of
substance. Educator Carl Sessions Stepp asserts "the thrill is gone" for
newspaper journalists, who have traditionally been attracted to the field
because they felt newspapering was a "holy calling" that could right wrongs and
make a positive difference in society. But, he says, that has changed:
Maintaining profit margins has had at least two profound conse-
quences on the newspaper village: Marketers have seized the chance
to run roughshod over editors, and a venerable way of thinking
newspapers has been debased ... Working for a newspaper used to
like a noble and exciting calling. Now the business side has
and angst reigns in America's newsrooms.
Ben Burns, the salty former editor of the Detroit News who was
demoted after Gannett purchased that paper, goes a step further in describing
the environment in today's newsrooms. "It's the General Motors syndrome. In
order to survive papers try to look like everybody else. People who stand out
from the crowd are at risk. And what you breed out of editors is the willingness
to take risks with their careers. Now we think we can create good editors by
management training. You end up with a CPA mentality among mid-level
editors." Geneva Overholser, the former Des Moines Register editor who
resigned from Gannett over newsroom financial structuring mandates, goes so far
as to say the large newspaper companies are "buying" their editors'
I really think it (editors' high pay) is kind of hush money. I
$230,000 last year. Some of it was in stock options and this and
But hell, you make this money. Editors make a lot of money. To be
they don't want to make the publishers unhappy. But it is s very
different job from the honest-to-God, shoe-leather journalism job.
business executive job.
The long-term effects of the market-driven approach on the quality of
newspapers, newsroom morale and industry profits remain to be seen. Meyer argues
that management and investors both must learn to live with lower profit margins,
and if they can do this, the newspaper industry will continue to be the "golden
goose" that lays golden eggs. However, Meyer believes if management continues to
push for maximum profits through the market-driven approach, not only
will the journalistic quality of newspapers continue to erode, the "good will"
newspapers have built in their communities will be irreversibly damaged.
Meyer asserts management is at a crossroads and can take one of two
approaches to maintaining its golden goose: nurturer or squeezer. The nurturer
realizes the value of the goose (read newspaper) and invests to ensure its
long-term viability, accepting lower profits at times but maintaining
credibility in the community; the squeezer gets whatever profit is attainable in
the short-term without great concern for the future. "While signals are mixed,
most of the decisions making business page headlines point to the squeeze
scenario." Meyer warns industry leaders that not everyone is willing to sit
back and let the newspapering industry, as its traditionally been known, dig its
own grave. He suggests once the good will of newspapers starts to erode, such
high profit margins will be simply unattainable. But this phenomenon may serve
society better than the model operating now, as the current owners and
stockholders may be enticed to look elsewhere to invest, and a new set of
entrepreneurs willing to accept lower profits may replace current corporate
A recent signal from management about the pressure for profits was
sent clearly by the Times Mirror Co. in the summer of 1995 when it went outside
the company to hire Mark Willes as new president and CEO. Willes had been a vice
president at General Mills and trained as an economist. He admitted his only
previous connection with journalism was that he read newspapers. In his
first appearance with reporters, Willes cited the marketing success of Hamburger
Helper as a possible model for newspapers. After six weeks on the job,
Willes shut down New York Newsday, a paper that circulated 670,000 papers daily,
and 746,000 on Sunday. Wall Street analysts applauded the move as a cost-cutting
stroke of genius and the company's stock shot up in Willes first few months on
Newspaper industry analyst John Morton sees some hope for a more
journalistic approach from existing management. Morton says a
combination of factors has led to the trend of market-driven journalism, and
these factors (early 1990s recession, an accompanying decline in advertising,
and news print cost increases) may play themselves out over time. But, as Morton
readily acknowledges, his sense that market-driven practices may end is his
hope, and not a certainty:
It is little wonder that after more than four years of management
bearing down on costs, newspaper journalists feel besieged and
couraged... The well-run newspaper companies, even though they
are now counting beans, recognize the long-run importance of
Indeed, the top executives of several were journalists themselves
earlier years. We can all hope that this basic understanding will
ually tip the balance back to journalism.
Journalists are increasingly unhappy in their jobs, and much of their
unhappiness is directed toward management and the implementation of a
"market-driven" business strategy. To stay profitable, newspaper management has
embraced this strategy, and the emphasis on "market-driven" content is in some
ways redefining the role of journalists and newspapers; furthermore, some large
companies have reduced and continue to reduce the size of newsroom staffs, and
the percentage of expenses allocated to news production continues to go down.
Corporate expectations of journalists are changing, and journalists are valued
by the economic return they can bring to their newspapers in terms of new
advertisers and readers.
Many journalists believe management is asking for basic and
fundamental changes in the practice of journalism. These changes - the
journalist as a business agent, smaller newsroom staffs, and less resources with
which to work - have negatively affected morale and job satisfaction.
Journalists feel increasingly less autonomy and freedom in their work, and they
feel economic pressures threaten their professionalism.
Meanwhile, the lower newspaper profits of the early 1990s have
improved to mid-1980s levels. In 1994, the nation's 10 largest publicly-owned
companies averaged 16.4 percent profit. Private newspaper businesses remain
equally as profitable. There
is a raging debate within the newspaper industry about the effects of
continued high profit goals. The debate includes the effects on content, but
some experts argue it is much larger: a major restructuring of profit
expectations will have to occur for newspapers to continue to serve as an
important source of public discourse in a democratic society.
Where the newspaper industry should fit in the realm of business
practice and service to society is an interesting question. Some scholars argue
that businesses are above societal or personal ethics, and have a set of ethical
"rules" all their own. Others contend the right of business is a privilege
granted by society, and all businesses have social responsibilities. An
exploration of newspaper business approaches and institutional models seems to
show the newspaper industry toward the end of the spectrum which is most
committed to maximizing profits. This business strategy adheres to the ideal
that a corporation's responsibility to stockholders and owners clearly comes
before responsibility to the well-being of society.
Some of the market-driven management goals clearly conflict with the
goals of journalists. Many scholars agree that individuals within organizations
must sacrifice some of their freedoms to the desires and policies of the
organizations to which they belong. But nearly all studies show journalists
remain committed to a core of professional values they feel embody journalism.
Prominent among these values are the freedom to determine the contents of the
news product, the sense of performing a public service, and the desire to
improve society. The key unanswered question is whether "market-driven"
journalism will allow journalists to continue to practice these professional
values to the extent which they are practiced today.
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Shepard, Alicia. "Geneva Talks." American Journalism Review. September
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Smith, Carol. "Running Newspapers or Building Empires: Analysis of
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Norwood, N.J.: Ablex, 1994.
Stepp, Carl Sessions. "The Thrill Is Gone." American Journalism
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Sylvie, George. "Influence of Selected Market Factors in
Interdepartmental Relationships in Daily Newspapers." In Readings in Media
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Weaver, David and G. Cleveland Wilhoit. "Daily newspaper journalists
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Weaver, David and G. Cleveland Wilhoit. The American Journalist. 2nd
ed. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1991.
Welch, D. Don. Conflicting Agendas: Personal Morality in Institutional
Settings. Cleveland, Ohio: Pilgrim Press, 1994.
 Merrill, John C. Existential Journalism. Ames: Iowa: Iowa State
University Press, 1996, p 4.
 Weaver, David and G. Cleveland Wilhoit. "Daily newspaper
journalists in the 1990s." Newspaper Research Journal 15, No. 3 (Summer 1994):
2-21. Also see: Peck, Louis. "Anger in the Newsroom." Washington Journalism
Review. December 1991: 22-27. Stepp, Carl Sessions. "The Thrill Is Gone."
American Journalism Review. Oct. 1995: 15-19. Underwood, Doug. "When MBAs rule
the newsroom." Columbia Journalism Review. March/April 1988: 23-30.Weaver, David
and G. Cleveland Wilhoit. The American Journalist. 2nd ed. Bloomington, Ind.:
Indiana University Press, 1991.
 Giles, Robert H. "Change Shapes Trends in Newspaper
Management." Newspaper Research Journal 14, No. 2 (Spring 1993): 32-39. McManus,
John H. Market-Driven Journalism: Let the Citizen Beware. Thousand Oaks, Ca.:
Sage Publications, 1994. Also see: Underwood.
 Stepp, op cit., p 17. Also see: Underwood, op cit., pp 24-27;
Glaberson, William. "Editors' departures at The Register." Des Moines Register.
Feb. 17, 1995; Shepard, Alicia. "Geneva Talks." American Journalism Review.
September 1995: 31- 33.
 Peck, op cit., pp 22-27. Stepp, op. cit., pp 15-19. Underwood,
op. cit., pp 23-30.
 Giles, op. cit., pp 32-39. Also see McManus.
 Pollard, George. "Job Satisfaction among Newsworkers: The
Influence of Professionalism, Perceptions of Organizational Structure, and
Social Attributes." Journalism Quarterly 72 (Autumn 1995): 682-697.
 Weaver and Wilhoit, op. cit., pp 10-11. Also see Pollard, op.
cit., pp 682-683. Joseph, Ted. "Reporters' and Editors' Preferences Toward
Reporter Decision Making." Journalism Quarterly 59 (Summer 1982): 219-222.
McQuarrie, Fiona A.E. "Dancing the Minefield: Developing a Management Style in
Media Organizations." In Readings in Media Management (229-240). Columbia,
S.C.: AEJMC, 1992.
 Schudson, Michael. The Power of News. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard
University Press, 1995. See chapters 3 and 4, "Question Authority: A History of
the News Interview," and "What is a reporter?" pp 72-112.
 Giles, op. cit., pp 33-34. Also see McManus, p 27.
 Picard, op. cit., p 186. Morton, John. "Are bean counters
taking over?" American Journalism Review. April 1995: 60.
 Meyer, Philip. "Learning to Love Lower Profits." American
Journalism Review. Dec. 1995: 40-44.
Bagdikian, Ben H. The Media Monopoly. 4th ed. Boston, Mass.: Beacon
Press, 1992. See Chapter 1, "The Endless Chain." pp 3-26. Also see Picard, op.
cit., p 186.
 Weaver and Wilhoit, p 9. Also see: Weaver, David and G.
Cleveland Wilhoit. The American Journalist. 2nd ed. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana
University Press, 1991.
 Weaver and Wilhoit cite the following studies done in other
professions: Louis Harris and Associates, Steelcase Office Environment Index
1991, found 43 percent "very satisfied." The National Opinion Research Center's
General Social Survey of 1990 reported 46 percent of the national adult work
force were "very satisfied."
 Weaver and Wilhoit, op. cit., p 9.
 ibid, p 9.
 ibid, p 11.
 ibid, p 10.
 ibid, pp 8, 19.
 ibid, p 19.
 Pollard, op cit., p 682.
 Pollard cited several studies done in the medical profession,
including: Breslau, Naomi, et. al. "Work settings and job satisfaction: A study
of primary care physicians and paramedical personnel." Medical Care 16(1978):
850-862; and Mick, Stephen, et al. "Physician turnover in eight New England
group practices: An analysis." Medical Care 21 (1983): 323-337.
 Pollard, op cit., p 683.
 Cook, Betsy B. et. al. "The effects of work environment on
burnout in the newsroom." Newspaper Research Journal 14, Nos. 3&4 (Summer-Fall
 Weaver and Wilhoit, op. cit., pp 9-10.
 Peck, op. cit., p 24.
 ibid, p 24.
 Masher, L. "Survey shows unhappiness in three dailies'
newsrooms." The Guild Reporter. Feb. 24, 1989: p 7.
 Johnstone, J.W.C., Slawski, E.J. and Bowman, W. The News
People: a sociological portrait of American journalists and their work. Urbana,
Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1976.
 Bergen, Lori A. and David Weaver. "Job Satisfaction of Daily
Newspaper Journalists and Organization Size." Newspaper Research Journal 9, No.
2 (Winter 1988): p 7.
 31 Weaver and Wilhoit, op. cit., p 10.
 Peck, Louis, op. cit., p 24.
 Joseph, op. cit., p 219.
 Bennett, David. "Editors as Managers: Their Perceived Need for
Specialized Training." Newspaper Research Journal 6 (1985): 24-36.
 Peck, op. cit., p 24.
 Underwood, op. cit., p 24.
 Bagdikian, op. cit., p 129.
 Pogash, Carl. "General Mills' Gift to Journalism." American
Journalism Review. July/August 1995: 41-44. Also see Meyer, Stepp, and
 Peck, op. cit., p 24.
 Underwood, op. cit., p 24.
 Stepp, op. cit., p 16.
 ibid, p 16.
 ibid, p 17.
 Glaberson, William. "Editors' departures at The Register." Des
Moines Register. Feb. 17, 1995.
 Shepard, Alicia. "Geneva Talks." American Journalism Review.
September 1995: 31-33.
 Friedman, Milton. "The Social Responsibility of Business." In
Ethical Issues in Professional Life (349-350). New York, N.Y.: Oxford
University Press, 1988. Carr, Albert Z. "Is Business Bluffing Ethical." In
Ethical Issues in Professional Life (69-71). New York, N.Y.: Oxford University
 Anshen, Melvin. "Changing the Social Contract: A Role for
Business." In Ethical Issues in Professional Life(351-354). New York, N.Y.:
Oxford University Press, 1988. Gillespie, Norman Chase. "The Business of
Ethics." In Ethical Issues in Professional Life (72-75). New York, N.Y.: Oxford
University Press, 1988.
 Friedman, op. cit., p 349.
 ibid, p 349.
 ibid, p 349.
 ibid, p 349.
 Carr, op. cit., p 69.
 ibid, p 70.
 Callahan, Joan C., ed. Ethical Issues in Professional Life.
New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 1988: p 346.
 Anshen, op. cit., p 354.
 ibid, p 354.
 Callahan, op. cit., p 263.
 Danley, John R. "Corporate Moral Agency: The Case for
Anthropological Bigotry." In Ethical Issues in Professional Life (269-274). New
York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 1988, p 272.
 ibid, p 273.
 ibid, p 274.
 Gillespie, Norman Chase. "The Business of Ethics." In Ethical
Issues in Professional Life (72-75). New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press,
1988, p 73.
 ibid, p 74.
 James, Gene G. "In Defense of Whistle Blowing." In Ethical
Issues in Professional Life (315-322). New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press,
1988, p 317.
 ibid, p 317.
 ibid, p 319.
 ibid, p 318.
 Welch, D. Don. Conflicting Agendas: Personal Morality in
Institutional Settings. Cleveland, Ohio: Pilgrim Press, 1994, p 3.
 ibid, p 41.
 ibid, p 41.
 ibid, p 168.
 McQuarrie, Fiona A.E. "Dancing the Minefield: Developing a
Management Style in Media Organizations." In Readings in Media Management
(229-240). Columbia, S.C.: AEJMC, 1992, p 234. Also see Weaver and Wilhoit.
 McQuarrie, op. cit., p 234.
 ibid, pp 234-36. McQuarrie says the complexity theories are
not usable as the complexity of the task for media workers varies greatly and
would accordingly require a "bewildering rapid series of changes in management
behavior." The production theories wouldn't work in today's newspapers because
many stories are written purposely short. Some reporters could work hours on a
story that runs only slightly longer than a brief.
 ibid, p 236.
 ibid, p 237.
 Kwitny, op. cit., p 20.
 Bagdikian, op. cit., see Chapter 4, "From Mythology to
Theology," pp 69-89, and Chapter 7, "The Endless Chain," pp 118-133.
 ibid, p 86.
 Kwitny, op. cit., p 20.
 Picard, op. cit., p 186.
 Demers, David Pearce and Daniel B. Wackman. "Effect of Chain
Ownership on Newspaper Management Goals." Newspaper Research Journal 9, No. 2
(Winter 1988): 59-68.
Demers and Wackman, op. cit., p 59.
 Smith, Carol. "Running Newspapers or Building Empires:
Analysis of Gannett's Ideology." Newspaper Research Journal 9, No. 2 (Winter
1988): pp 44-45.
 Underwood, op. cit., p 23.
 Kwitny, op. cit., p. 20.
 Garneau, George. "Newsroom workers down; supervisors up, ASNE
study shows."Editor & Publisher. April 20, 1991: p 12.
 Bagdikian, op. cit., pp 195-199.
 Case, Tony. "Severe Cutbacks at Knight-Ridder Newspapers."
Editor & Publisher. Nov. 4, 1995: p 16.
 Meyer, op. cit., p 43.
 ibid, p 40
 Picard, op. cit., p 186.
 Meyer, op. cit., p 44.
 ibid, p 44.
 Bogart, Leo. Commercial Culture. New York, N.Y.: Oxford
University Press, 1995, p 60.
 ibid, p 60.
 See Picard, McManus, Meyer, Stepp, and Kwitny.
 Glaberston, The Des Moines Register, Feb. 17, 1995.
 Picard, op. cit., p 193.
 Giles, op. cit., p 34.
 McManus, op. cit., p 27.
 ibid, p 32
 ibid, pp 85-86.
 Giles, op. cit., p 35.
 103 ibid, pp 33-34.
 McManus, op. cit., p 87.
 ibid, p 85.
 ibid, p 183.
 Weaver and Wilhoit, pp 9-10.
 Stepp, op. cit., p 15.
 Underwood, op. cit., p 25.
 Shepard, op. cit., p 33.
 Meyer, op. cit., pp 42-44.
 ibid, p 43.
 ibid, p 42.
 Pogash, op. cit., p 41.
 Stepp, op. cit., p 16.
 Morton, John. "Managing with a bolo knife." American
Journalism Review. September 1995: 56.
 Morton, John. "Are bean counters taking over?" American
Journalism Review.. April 1995: 60.