Diversity Efforts in the Newsroom: Doin' the Right Thing or Show Me the Money?
Diversity Efforts in the Newsroom: Doin' the Right Thing or
Just A Case of Show Me the Money?
Richard Gross, MA, MS,
Missouri School of Journalism
Patricia A. Curtin, Ph.D.
School of Journalism and Mass Communication
The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Glen T. Cameron, Ph.D.
Missouri School of Journalism
Correspondence concerning this manuscript should be addressed to Glen T.
Cameron, Gregory Chair in Journalism Research, 134-B Neff Annex, Missouri School
of Journalism, Columbia, MO 65211 office phone: (573) 884-2607, home phone:
(573) 446-4521, office fax: (573) 882-2890, Internet:
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Researchers analyzed 76 interviews with reporters and editors at a respected
western U.S. newspaper involved in enhancing diversity of its newspaper content
and newsroom staffing. Researchers sought to determine if market-driven
considerations and "quality" journalism were perceived by respondents as
mutually exclusive. The study confirms previous findings that journalists
consider knowledge about the business of their newspaper to be empowering, not
necessarily in conflict with the editorial mission.
ASNE goal 2000. News 2000. Partners 2000. What these programs share is not a
Y2K problem but a belief that newspapers by the new millennium must be more
responsive to diverse audiences and advertisers if they are to survive. As
media channels proliferate and penetration rates decline, newspapers are putting
the word profit in their mission statements and turning to marketing concepts
such as branding and database management to bolster flagging circulation figures
and increase advertising revenues (Liebeskind, 1996; Sharp & Perucci, 1997).
It is now the norm, not the exception, to use readership research to determine
content and format (Schoenbach & Bergen, 1998). Targeted content (i.e.,
geographically zoned issues, special sections, and niche publications) is
growing exponentially (Curtin, 1998; Sharp & Perucci, 1997). A new tabloid
publication-60504-is named for the zip code it targets and delivers to
advertisers, a high-end market the Claritas research group labels Kids and
Cul-de-sacs. "We are branding new products because of the market realities,"
says Art Wible, Copley company president (in Fitzgerald, 1997, p. 13). In fall
1997 the Newspaper Association of America launched a 3-year, $18 million ad
campaign because "We have to do a much better job of getting up close and
personal with readers and advertisers alike and tell the story of an aggressive,
and very relevant business" (John Sturm in Consoli, 1997a, p. 6; 1997b).
While the industry has long recognized the need to provide relevant content to
readers and deliver that reader base to advertisers, critics charge that the
recent emphasis on marketing is overshadowing journalism's social responsibility
function (McManus, 1994; Underwood, 1993b). This case study analyzes 76
in-depth interviews with reporters and editors at a large, U.S. western
metropolitan daily to determine staff attitudes toward the new publisher's
program to enhance diversity in newspaper content and newsroom staffing while
increasing profits through broadened circulation into growing ethnic
Much of the evidence for market-driven journalism is anecdotal. James Squires
(1993) and Doug Underwood (1993) wrote tell-all books about their experiences as
top editors who quit over disagreements with management about market issues.
The concept received more rigorous academic treatment with the publication of
John McManus' book (1994) Market-Driven Journalism: Let the Citizen Beware?, in
which he proposes a microeconomic model of news production.
Based on microeconomic theory, McManus (1994) states that competition and
exchange in four distinct markets drives news production. Those markets are
investors, advertisers, sources, and consumers. Of these four markets, only
investors are part of the corporate structure, theoretically giving them the
most influence. Advertisers are the next most powerful influence because they
are the largest revenue producers, compelling media to act prudently so as not
to antagonize advertisers with adverse editorial copy. Sources and news
departments enjoy a directly reciprocal relationship, with sources depending on
the media to carry their information to the public and the media depending on
sources for information. In the fourth competitive market, consumers' attention
is traded for information. In turn, the media seek consumer attention to sell it
Newsmakers operate not only within the confines of these four market exchanges
but also within the constraints of organizational culture, which is governed by
two sets of norms: journalism (editorial) and business (McManus, 1994).
Journalism norms judge news value based on public need to know and objectivity
without regard to the money or time necessary to achieve these goals. Business
norms embody the market theory of news construction, which states that news
departments will compete "to offer the least expensive mix of content that
protects the interests of sponsors and investors while garnering the largest
audience advertisers will pay to reach" (p. 85).
McManus describes news as "an elaborate compromise" between the two ideals
governing news production and among the four market forces acting on the media
corporation (McManus, 1994, p. 37). This compromise yields "the least expensive
mix of content that protects the interest of sponsors and investors while
garnering the largest audience advertisers will pay to reach" (McManus, 1994, p.
85). Although McManus claims the business and journalistic models are not
necessarily mutually exclusive, during the frequent instances in which they do
diverge their influence is unequal: "Where investor direction is for maximum
profit, market norms will dominate journalism norms when the two conflict"
(McManus, 1994, p. 35). In McManus' terms (1995), economic rationalism is
replacing social responsibility as the reasoning underlying media routines.
Empirical tests of the model are few. An earlier survey of newspaper staffers,
found that staff at chain-owned papers believed their papers stressed business
principles, whereas staff at family-owned papers believed their papers stressed
editorial autonomy (Underwood & Stamm, 1992). A slight majority of staffers at
all papers thought that when business principles were given more emphasis, the
overall quality of the paper was better. The authors conclude
Journalism purists may be dismayed that market-oriented principles have so
deeply permeated the newsroom. . . . Newspapers are catering to the market-place
with their greater emphasis on customer-oriented journalism. But they appear to
be doing this while trying to preserve the traditional journalistic values of
editorial autonomy and community service so prized by news workers. (Underwood &
Stamm, 1992, p. 317)
In a survey of editors and reporters, Coulson (1994) found that 47% did not
think profit concerns were placed before quality concerns at their paper, 39%
said they were, and only 14% gave a neutral response. These results suggest
market-driven journalism is a divisive professional issue.
Recent work by Beam (1996) found that a marketing orientation may be best
predicted by newspapers' own uncertainty over how best to serve readers and not
by external factors, such as competition and ownership. As changes in a
newspaper's environment occur, management may decide to shift from a reliance on
professional news judgment to one on market research to determine the goodness
of fit between content and community.
In a follow-up study, Beam (1998) found that the relative strength of the market
orientation at a paper does not usually affect the attention given to issues.
In the seven instances in which a significant difference was found the results
were counterintuitive; papers with a stronger market orientation were more
dedicated to traditional coverage, significantly more likely to take an
adversarial stance in their reporting, and professed a strong commitment to
journalistic excellence. In turn, these papers tended to be larger circulation,
situated in larger population centers, and owned by larger chains. These
findings are consonant with those of Demers (1993, 1995, 1996a, 1996b, 1998),
who has investigated the role of structural pluralism and corporate newspaper
structure on content and found that larger corporate papers tend to exercise
more autonomy and consequent editorial vigor.
Curtin (1996) used discriminant analysis on survey measures of market
orientation to determine if McManus' model could correctly predict ownership
structure. The model correctly identified 76% of independently owned papers and
65% of chain-owned papers, but only after the confounding variable of public
ownership was removed. Factors that did not contribute significantly to the
model's predictive power were the use of readership research, carrying stories
that might offend advertisers, publishing as editorial copy material from the
marketing department, and the use of public relations information subsidies.
Consonant with Beam's 1996 study, these findings suggest that market pressures
are more internally driven than externally derived (Curtin, 1998).
Clearly the issue of market-driven journalism remains a divisive one in the
profession. The literature suggests that ownership structure and variables are
not strong predictors of a market-driven orientation, whereas internal
uncertainty over readership concerns and steady sources of advertising revenues
are strong predictors. One source of that uncertainty may be due to the
increasing fragmentation of markets as well as the need to address increasingly
diverse audiences. Both sources are evident in the market area of the newspaper
that forms the basis of this study.
Along with the increased emphasis on readership research to increase circulation
has come the realization that certain populations have been traditionally
under-served by newspapers, especially in urban areas. Circulation efforts have
concentrated on wealthy readers who provide an attractive demographic to
advertisers. Covering poor, inner city peoples and issues was deemed
counterproductive because they were neither the paper's readers nor the
advertisers target market (Curtin, 1996). Even today, the publishers of papers
facing declining penetration, among them The New York Times, talk instead in
terms of "market effectiveness"--providing advertisers with upscale readers
(Cranberg, 1997; Sharp & Perruci, 1997). Market research, however, has
demonstrated that such an attitude is elitist and, in many cases, ignores the
reality of large urban markets. The population of these areas is not only
ethnically diverse, but the distribution of wealth and power is increasingly
diversified (U.S. Bureau of the Census, www.census.gov).
New professional programs demonstrate how papers can use minority consumer
research to develop editorial and business opportunities through special
sections and new outlooks (Sacharow, 1996). Promoters point to successes such
as Knight Ridder's Nuevo Herald, which has exhibited healthy economic support
from a growing subscriber and advertiser base. Brislin and Williams (1996),
speaking of diversity, claim "It is basic economic sense that if you are to
build circulation or ratings within a community, you must cover it" (p. 17).
Despite the lack of formal evidence for such a claim, observers of the Unity '94
conference noted "A favorite line from executives was some variation of 'We want
diversity not just because it's the right thing to do - but because it's the
smart thing for business too'" (Fitzgerald, 1994, p. 16). Pease (1990) takes
the economic import of diversity even further: "Diversity is an . . . economic
[issue]; what's at risk is nothing less than survival of newspapers as a mass
medium" (pp. 24-25).
To create diverse content, newspapers have sought to hire more minority
journalists. A 1996 APME survey found that over three-fourths of journalists
believed the racial composition of news staffs should reflect that of society
and even more (86%) believed a diverse news staff resulted in better and more
credible news coverage (Shipler, 1998). To address these issues, ASNE in 1978
set a goal of 26% minority employment rate by the year 2000-the number chosen to
match the prevalence of minorities in the population. At the time, minority
employment in newsrooms was not quite 4%. In 1997, ASNE announced the goal
would not be met; current minority representation stood at 11.5%, and studies
demonstrated that the nation's minority population was growing at a faster rate
than that of minority employment in newsrooms (Fitzgerald, 1997; Haws, 1991).
As of 1994, 46% of daily newspapers had no minority employees, and those who did
were experiencing only an 80% retention rate (Anfuso, 1995; Sunoo, 1994).
In return, some in the newsroom have complained of "knee-jerk diversity" or
"affirmative angst," resulting in a loss of talent in the face of political
correctness (Stein, 1997). Many industry analysts believe that if the focus is
on hiring rather than on content, the result is newsroom polarization rather
than unity (Stein, 1997). A 1996 APME study found that 40% of white journalists
believed minorities were held to a lower standard, whereas 66% of blacks thought
minorities were held to higher standards (Shipler, 1998). Similar findings
resulted from a 1996 ASNE study: 54% of blacks, but only 12% of whites, believed
minorities were treated unfairly in the newsroom (Shipler, 1998). In a
telephone survey of minority newsroom managers, one complained that minorities
are "held to a higher standard of proof" (Pease & Stempel, 1990, p. 71). Many
respondents spoke of the pressures and isolation inherent in being a "token" or
"panic" hire (p. 74).
It is also not clear whether increasing the number of minorities in the newsroom
results in improved coverage of minorities. It has been demonstrated that
typical mainstream coverage of minorities, stemming from newsrooms with little
or no minority representation, is limited in scope and often results in
stereotypic depictions (see, for example, DeLouth & Woods, 1996). Other studies
have demonstrated that minority media cover different issues and frame issues
differently than their mainstream competition (see, for example, Turner & Allen,
1997). But as one critic notes, simply hiring more minorities may not be the
By some mysterious alchemy, the whole task of providing better coverage of
minority issues seems to have become tied to the effort to bring more minority
individuals into journalism. The idea seems to be that if we can just get more
minority reporters into our newsrooms, they will make sure that we provide more
accurate and representative coverage of minorities in society. (Martindale,
1988, p. 2-3)
The few empirical studies of the issue suggest such skepticism is warranted: a
review of ASNE proceedings found that editors believed increased numbers of
minority hires has not resulted in improved minority coverage (Najjar, 1995),
and a survey of members of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists
notes that the increasing diversity of communities may one cause: "The more
integrated a community, the less important a role ethnicity plays in
newsgathering" (Leibler, 1988, p. 43).
The literature on diversity mirrors that of market-driven journalism: these
issues remain sharply divisive in the field. Content audits have been praised
for ensuring minority representation and damned for providing meaningless quotas
that ignore the real issues. For some, market-driven journalism and commitment
to diversity represent savvy and informed industry moves to renew public faith
in newspapers and to reconnect with alienated readers. For others, they
represent the loss of all that journalism in a free speech environment has
traditionally stood for: supplying the public with what it needs to know,
serving as the watchdog of government, demonstrating independence from special
interests, and exercising complete autonomy over news matters. While these
issues remain hotly debated in the macrocosm of American journalism, they remain
of equal concern in the microcosm of the newsroom of the metropolitan daily
newspaper in which these interviews were conducted.
The Subject Newspaper and Its Constituency
This study was conducted at the aforementioned U.S. western metropolitan daily.
The paper is among the largest-circulating daily newspapers in the nation and is
highly influential in its region of the country.
This newspaper serves a region that is among the most economically, culturally
and ethnically diverse metropolitan areas in the United States. Its market area
is roughly the size of the state of Ohio. The region is home to several million
residents, well over 100 language communities, and scores of incorporated
cities. The most rapidly growing non-white ethnic group made up 31% of the
population in the newspaper's circulation area in 1991. That proportion could
double by the year 2000.
In 1995, the newspaper's publisher decided to take a more aggressive marketing
approach to help pull the newspaper out of the severe advertising recession it
had been experiencing. Along with this more market-driven approach, new
consideration was given to enhancing diversity. This diversity was encouraged
both in the newsroom in the form of hiring, in the newspaper itself in the form
of attention to the diversity of content, and in the publication's overall
product philosophy, resulting in ethnically targeted offshoots. A new
advertising campaign accompanied these internal changes, one designed to promote
the newspaper's brand name and benefits rather than specific features of the
Guided by this new market-driven approach to the issue of diversity, the
editorial staff sought vertical integration of its product line. It created
narrowly focused new packages designed to establish brand loyalty among the
growing segments of the region's population while increasing ad revenues. The
publisher's new approach was to seek to be successful on the business side in
order to nourish the health and success of the newspaper's editorial side.
To demonstrate its concern about the issue of diversity, the newspaper
appointed a diversity commission whose task it was to encourage newsroom
dialogue that began in response to internal concern that certain communities
were not being adequately covered by the newspaper. The newspaper made a
commitment to minority hiring, nearly doubling its minority editorial staffers.
The newspaper even experimented with editions and special products targeted at
communities not well represented among its readership. These included a weekly
tabloid, a Monday forum for community columns and letters, even a bilingual
Not everyone greeted these changes with approval. Critics contend that these
changes resulted in formulaic content that panders to advertisers, not readers.
Controversy erupted when it was suggested that the paper was setting hiring
quota goals for the numbers of minorities and women. It was also rumored that
raises and promotions would be withheld from editors and reporters who failed to
meet designated numbers. Staff reportedly resisted the plan of 'affirmative
action quoting.' The newspaper's publisher subsequently made it clear that the
hiring figures were desirable goals, not mandated quotas.
Still, the changes have much support in an industry not known for its business
acumen. Marilyn Lee, vice president of employee relations for a major
newspaper, says change just makes good business sense: "If newspapers don't
reflect and serve their communities, readers and advertisers won't support them"
(in Sunoo, 1994). That paper's parent company, recently announced that the pay
scale for top editors and publishers will soon be based in part on female and
minority hires and readership (Perruci, 1998). Do such programs amount to
reverse discrimination, intimating that talented white males need not apply?
Scholarship in this area is negligible. Therefore, the 35 hours of in-depth
interviewing analyzed for this study offers a rich understanding. The attempt
to understand attitudes newspaper editorial staffers hold toward their
publisher's drive to promote diversity while increasing profits is both a rare
and important glimpse at the face of the future of journalism and its
The researchers sought to gain some insight into three issues in their
interviews with 76 reporters and editors:
1) What motives do editorial staffers ascribe to the publisher's emphasis on
diversity -better business, better journalism, or both?
2) Irrespective of their attitudes about motive, what do the journalists believe
will be the result of this emphasis on diversity, and will that result benefit
the newspaper's content, bottom-line, or both?
3) Does the newspaper fit the discriminant model proposed by McManus (1995) and
previously tested by Curtin (1996, 1998, 1999)?
Sample and Interview Procedure
The convenience sample examined for this study consisted of 76 subjects who
worked in editorial positions at a major western daily newspaper. The subjects
were reporters, editors, or photographers whose experience with the company
ranged from a few years to decades. These journalists worked in a news
organization participating in a larger study of the diversity issue. The purpose
of that larger longitudinal study is to examine broadly the extent to which
diversity is a concern in employment and editorial practices at the publishing
In drawing the editorial employee sample, only employees with an active role in
creating daily newspaper content were selected. Journalists were invited to
make appointments with interviewers to talk about diversity matters.
Interviews averaged about one-half hour each and took place during two separate
visits to the newsroom, with each visit lasting two days.
Media researchers at a midwestern school of journalism constructed an interview
guide. Five senior researchers from the school conducted the interviews: one
African-American, one Latino, and three Caucasians. The interview guide was
used to assure continuity during interviews conducted by the five different
researchers. The guide was a set of general questions and probes relevant to the
larger study's primary research objective of assessing diversity issues in the
newsroom and diversity in the content of the newspaper.
As part of the interview guide, respondents were asked the following question:
"What do you believe is the company's motivation in its concern about diversity
issues?" The question sought to elicit responses ascribing the publisher's
concern about diversity to either editorial content or market-driven issues or
both. Responses were open-ended. Respondents were candid and deliberate in their
assessment, taking their time to consider and then respond. Their responses to
that question formed the basis for this inquiry.
All newsroom staffers participated voluntarily in the study. The publishing
company encouraged participation through a series of memos that emphasized the
importance of the study and the need for candid input from staffers. While this
may be deemed by some as "pressure" from their employer, there was no evidence
that those who volunteered felt compelled to participate. The respondents'
candor during interviews suggests that the independence of an academic team and
the disclosure statement from the team's Human Subjects Review Board offered
adequate assurance of confidentiality. Subsequent assessment of the interviews
suggested strongly that the candid views expressed were truly those of the
The interviews were conducted at the employer's place of business over a
three-day period. All interviews were recorded with the permission of the
participants. This allowed the researchers to pay careful attention to each
participant's responses while taking minimal notes. Following the interview
guide, each session moved from general to specific questions. This afforded the
subject ample time to offer his or her opinions about the factors affecting the
stance of the organization in the areas being studied.
Data Analysis Plan
In analyzing the interview data, the researchers employed the analytic
induction strategy described in Wimmer and Dominick (1997) as adapted by
Stainback and Stainback (in Wimmer and Dominick, 1988, p. 88). One of the
researchers for this study reviewed transcripts of the taped interview data, as
well as the notes of the interviewers. The researcher used this information to
select themes and formulate the research questions. Cases were examined to
determine the viability of the themes and research questions. Negative cases
were sought. With new observations gathered from successive examination of the
interview cases, the themes and research questions assumed their final form.
A second researcher then independently examined the interview data and
interviewers' notes focusing exclusively on the market-driven versus quality
journalism issues. To ensure that all interview comments regarding the
market-driven motives of diversity initiatives at the publishing company had
been gathered, this second researcher listened to each of the 76 interviews
without benefit of seeing the first set of transcriptions. The researcher
listened for and transcribed all editorial respondent comments regarding
market-driven motives of the publishing company, irrespective of the factors to
which the market-driven comments referred. This was done to provide fresh
perspective in challenging, modifying and adding to the analysis. The two
researchers then compared their separate findings to ensure thoroughness,
accuracy in transcription and validity of the theme statements.
Findings and Discussion
What Is the Motive for the Publisher's Emphasis on Diversity?
This is the fundamental question the researchers sought to answer. The very
first respondent set the tone for virtually all respondents who addressed the
Because they (the publishers) are not stupid. Bottom line. The
city is changing demographically. The Latino community is growing
and growing fast. The Asian American community is growing fast_.
It's the future of this city and I think the paper is smart enough to realize
If the first respondent appeared to offer a seemingly one-sided, market-driven
point of view toward the publisher's impetus for diversity coverage, one
suggesting as does McManus (1995) that economic considerations were supplanting
journalistic ones, subsequent respondents clarified the issue.
One (Respondent #14) said:
I think there is a genuine desire to improve the coverage of our community.
(The city) is changing and we have to keep up with that change. So, I think
it's partly journalistic. It's also financial in that we have to bring in
and one way to do it is to make the paper accessible to them. So, partly it's
Added another (Respondent #19):
(The reason) is twofold. There is a feeling among the top editors and
managers that it is the right thing to do. Diversify the workforce. I also
think it's a business thing: to have a diverse workforce makes the
product better at covering diverse communities.
Said yet another respondent (Respondent #36):
Certainly, I think increasing circulation is a major component in it. But
one would hope that_journalists want to be able to do a better job. And
I would hope that's the feeling at the senior level, too. Doing the best
job you can covering the community. I'm not saying there's anything
wrong with that (financial concerns). Someone has to worry about
increasing circulation. Reporters and editors don't really know about that.
To some extent most respondents seemed to accept both journalistic improvements
and financial necessity as the twin motives for their newspaper publisher's push
to enhance diversity in the newsroom and in the newspaper. In fact, of the 21
respondents who addressed both journalistic and market-driven pressures
directly, not one mentioned anything negative about financial considerations.
This is not to say the responses were completely absent of any concern. Rather,
like Respondent #40, the participants seemed genuinely reflective and desirous
that their newspaper change to reflect the changes that were ongoing in their
I think (the effort to enhance diversity coverage) is market-driven, but
I don't mean that in the typical, pejorative sort of way_the quick
response of jadedness. I think it's market-driven in the sense that_if
you say you want to serve the community better, to do that they have to
purchase the paper. I think it's just sort of a pragmatic thing. Population
is growing and changing. You have to respond somehow. So, I guess I
would say it's market-driven, but I don't mean market-driven necessarily
as a strictly commercial decision.
The emphasis of most respondents focused on market-driven forces as a necessary
consideration in a city that is changing. Some respondents, among them
Respondent #49, noted that the immediacy of the drive to enhance diversity was a
function of the newspaper publisher's concerns that the paper reflect the
This is not the kind of city it once was. If we are going to grow as a
newspaper, we have to reflect the differences that are out there in the
world. This has proceeded with fits and starts throughout the years.
I don't think it's a new concern, but now, it's coming from the top.
In sum, all respondents cited both journalistic and market-driven
considerations as twin reasons for the newspapers' executives emphasis on
Beneficial or Detrimental?
Ascribing the motivation of the paper's publisher in retooling philosophy is
one thing; however, determining whether the ultimate result of the change in
philosophy is positive or negative may be quite another. To gain some insight
into this newspaper's journalists' attitude toward the consequences of the
change in philosophy, all 76 interviews were reviewed in full to uncover and
transcribe responses that addressed the direction of attitudes toward a more
Again, the researchers found that virtually all respondents who commented on
the positive or negative nature of the philosophical changes had positive
attitudes toward its effect on the newspaper, both as a journalistic product and
as a healthy business entity. Indeed, they seem to reflect the attitude that
business health was good for journalistic health. Said Respondent #34:
You know, every paper has a market they want to reach. I don't think
there's anything wrong per se in picking out a group of people that
you want to reach.
Respondent #36 responded in a similar vein, saying "Someone has to worry about
increasing circulation. Reporters and editors don't really know about that."
Respondent #37 tied the ongoing changes in the circulation region with the more
competitive business atmosphere in which the newspaper now operates:
Numbers attract advertisers. The city has seen a dramatic change in the major
advertisers. We have lost supermarkets. We have lost department stores. We have
lost all those big, full-page ads that made us a fat, rich newspaper. We have to
fight for those ads now that used to just float in before. To do that, we have
to have numbers. We have to have the demographics.
These, the reader is reminded, are journalists, with no credentialed expertise
or responsibility for the business side of their newspaper.
The journalists who responded to these issues seem to have the attitude that the
change to a more market-driven philosophy on the part of the publisher was one
motivated by both journalistic and business concerns. The diversity effort was
also regarded as being largely positive in terms of its effect on the newspaper,
making it a vehicle that better represented its readership.
This is not to say that the journalists had no concern for becoming too focused
on market-driven motivations. Most, like Respondent #37, drew the line at
altering the editorial content for solely market-driven reasons:
If you start monkeying with the content, that's where most of us are having a
problem. So, I don't have a problem with research or that sort of thing to find
out how we can do what we do better. It's when you start skewing the product and
However, the same respondent quickly added:
I've never had that happen. I've never been told 'write this story differently'
(because of financial concerns)_and I don't know anyone who has (been told
to do that).
The 76 interview subjects offered their comments both in response to a direct
question concerning their publisher's motivation, and as unprompted remarks.
Though only a sampling of the more pertinent comments are included in the two
preceding sections, the comments are representative of those expressed by all
Many subjects experienced difficulty with the term "market-driven journalism"
because it has taken on a pejorative meaning among many journalists. Respondents
were hesitant to use it, particularly in reference to the paper for which they
worked. Yet respondents did believe that
their paper should be more responsive to present and prospective readers. In
this sense, they embraced the use of the term "market-driven journalism" and
believe it reflects a commitment to serving the changing and diverse community
of readers in their market area.
What emerges from the data, then, may be recognition that in today's
marketplace, one increasingly competitive for audience attention, both
traditional journalistic norms and business norms form a necessary baseline.
Unlike McManus, who often places these two in competition, the respondents in
this study viewed the inherent tension between these two sets of norms as a
healthy relationship, provided the tension remained within bounds. Just as some
performance anxiety can improve a performance whereas too much can destroy the
performance, the subjects in this study viewed some tension between journalism
and business norms as healthy. It can offer a competitive edge. These results
confirm those of Underwood and Stamm (1982), who found that reporters believed
an emphasis on market principles provided a healthy environment for focusing on
the content of the newspaper, provided those market principles did not override
Other studies have found that editors welcome more interaction between the
editorial and business sides of newspapers, which would give editors more of a
boundary-spanning role (Curtin, 1996). They believe that greater awareness of
all aspects of producing a newspaper throughout the organization will result in
a better product by encouraging the editorial side to be more responsive to
readers. The comment by one respondent that reporters and editors do not know
about issues such as increasing circulation may be something of an anachronism.
Reporters and editors want to know more about their audience members and how
best to serve them not as a "selling out" of the traditional norms of
journalism, but as an expansion of their traditional role to include market
considerations and demographic changes as well.
Certainly the field-based observations from this study confirm the quantitative
ones of Beam (1998), namely that newspapers respond more to uncertainty in the
journalism environment and the resulting internal uncertainty than they do to
deterministic microeconomic market forces, such as McManus (1994) suggests.
Faced with a growing, increasingly diverse prospective audience, the newspaper's
editorial-side respondents are increasingly introspective about how to best meet
the needs of this new audience. This introspection includes market-driven
considerations and only becomes dangerous when the overall journalistic mission
of the newspaper appears imperiled.
This study, then, is part of a growing body of literature that suggests that, in
the newspaper industry at least, McManus' model may not be sufficient to explain
the dynamics that take place when the need for the paper to thrive as a business
is co-mingled with the traditional public watchdog and social conscience roles
As Showmaker and Reuse (1991) note, economic pressures in the broadcast
industry, which served as the basis for McManus' work, are more severe and may
be more determinative of the pressures and conflict experienced in broadcast
news. In the only somewhat less competitive atmosphere of newspapers, a healthy
tension may exist between editorial and business forces that encourages
newspapers to not only do the best job of providing readers what they need to
know, but also to be responsive to what it is readers want to know. Responding
to one's audience is a traditional function of marketing.
All of the journalists who commented on the journalistic versus market-driven
concerns of their publisher's goal of enhancing diversity in coverage and
representation at the newspaper agreed that both motives were in effect and, in
fact, diversity would encourage circulation growth and financial health of the
These expressed opinions can be seen either as the genuine beliefs of a
generation of journalists unencumbered by the need to hold a traditional
ideology or the guarded statements of employees concerned about holding their
jobs. There is evidence to support both possibilities.
By embracing both social and economic goals as being attainable through the
adoption of a diversity strategy, the respondents may be manifesting one of two
cognitive strategies first identified by Stamm and his associates in the growing
literature of public relations (Stamm and Bowes, 1972).
Stamm referred to these cognitive strategies as hedging and wedging. People are
said to hedge when they simultaneously hold two seemingly conflicting beliefs;
they wedge when they choose to hold one belief and reject the other. One way of
explaining our respondents' belief that both traditional journalistic goals and
market realities argue for a policy of diversity is to say that the respondents
were hedging. Fueling this possibility is the fact that the newspaper in
question recently suffered permanent personnel cutbacks numbering in the
hundreds in the wake of a persistent decline in advertising revenue. Threats of
losing one's job can be strong motivation to embrace acceptable attitudes about
a policy change when one has little choice anyway.
There is a more positive way of interpreting the respondents' expressed
attitudes. Their region is indeed changing, as is the nation as a whole. As
several respondents stated outright or inferred, Hispanic and Asian minority
groups would soon combine to form, along with African Americans, the region's
majority population. Respondents believe that if the newspaper's publisher
overlooked this fact, the paper's journalistic mission and credibility would
suffer and its circulation would decline. Whereas the publisher may be marketing
the newspaper as a business, the respondents may see this as an opportunity to
market the newspaper as a journalistic product. The respondents are either
hedging well, or they do not believe that journalistic considerations have been
sacrificed to those of business. Rather, they perceive a healthy tension and an
expansion of roles has followed in the wake of the publisher's enhanced
The findings of this study hint at larger implications beyond its scope. Among
the more persistent axioms concerning American journalism over the past
half-century are: 1) journalists as a professional group are ideologically
"left-liberal" and therefore supportive of "diversity," also expressed at
various times as "civil rights" or "equal rights" (Gans, 1980, pp.211-12); and
2) the conglomeration of the media is undesirable because it reduces the number
of "voices" that can be heard in the "marketplace of ideas," and presents the
potential for the influence of the business side on the editorial content
(Bagdikian, 1996, pp 4-5). In light of the findings of this study, and other
recent ones that sought to answer similar questions, it may be time to reexamine
Will a more market-driven orientation on the part of journalists affect the
integrity of their work? Is it be possible that journalists are so imbued with
the ethos of their chosen profession that even attempts to co-mingle "church and
state" will fail? Can the newspaper thrive as a business and simultaneously
fulfill its mission to provide a fresher sense of social responsibility to its
newly targeted market? Gans noted that, journalists beliefs notwithstanding, he
believed them to hold what he termed "enduring values" (1980, pp. 42-52), a set
of eight clusters Gans says are "...sometimes unfairly belittled as 'motherhood
values' (p. 42). These "enduring values" include, among others, responsible
capitalism, a belief that business people will fairly compete for both profits
and social wellbeing (pp. 46-48).
It is exactly this kind of approach to market incentives the authors see
reflected in the responses of the journalists surveyed. One
journalist-respondent summarized the issue as seen by the authors in the
following manner. The response is worthy of quoting in full:
The history of journalism is a tension between the idealism of the profession
and the people who have worked in it...and the fact that we are a moneymaking
operation. That's always driven what the newspaper is. For example, even the
whole idea of objectivity was not commonly seen in American journalism at the
turn of the century. The idea that a newspaper could be an objective source of
information that citizens could rely on was itself a marketing tool used to
build up circulation after years of Yellow Journalism and all that. So, I think
there's a dialectic going on here. On the one hand, here there's a huge market
that the newspaper has a potential (to reach). The newspaper knows that it has
to respond to that for its own survival. Miami realized long ago that it was
becoming a Cuban town. (We) are realizing that, too. At the same time, there are
a lot of people here who realize that it is the right thing to do anyway. That
it's more fair, more open_because those are values with which Americans were
brought up. That was what makes us a good country, that's why we should be proud
to be American. We open our arms to everybody. It is both a moral and an
economic issue here.
Researchers involved in this study are presently expanding their efforts to
study the impact of diversity on this newspaper. These efforts will entail new
surveys in the newsroom and among the newspaper's readership. The findings of
these longitudinal studies will compare the perceptions of newspaper reporters
and editors with those of community members to help determine whether or not the
nature of those perceptions regarding the impact of the diversity effort is
As demographic changes sweep over society and economic changes ripple through
the newspaper industry as a result, the authors believe that additional study
will be of obvious value, not only of the newspaper at which this study was
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