The director of a national research organization that studies the press said Wednesday that newspaper editors around the country are struggling to shift their focus from daily editions to the Web and other services, and the majority don’t know what their organizations will look like in five years.
Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, told a crowd of editors at the Associated Press Managing Editors conference in Las Vegas that a survey of more than 250 newspapers calls into question whether newsrooms are planning ahead.
“Do we have a plan for the future, or are we just sort of reacting as things come at us?” Rosenstiel said.
Rosenstiel said newspapers are being asked to shift from a product, the physical newspaper, to a service encompassing the Web, mobile devices and other forms to deliver information to consumers turning away from the printed page.
“It can be subtle, but it’s a fundamental change,” he said.
Results from the survey released in July showed that just 5 percent of editors were confident in predicting how their operations would work in five years. The rest of the editors were equally split between being either somewhat confident or having little or no confidence.
“Editors seem cautious and only marginally more confident than not,” the study said. “In the face of such uncertainty, several editors cited their staff’s willingness to accept change and embrace new technology as the factor contributing most to their competitiveness.”
The survey was based on interviews with newspaper editors in 15 cities in four regions of the United States and senior news executives at 259 newspapers nationwide.
Editors at the conference are considering questions that were irrelevant to newspapers two decades ago before the Internet became a fixture.
Today, papers are struggling to generate the same revenues from the Internet as they have lost in print ad sales, which has forced job cuts and tough decisions about content.
Tyler Marshall, who wrote the study titled “The Changing Newsroom: What is Being Gained and What is Being Lost in America’s Daily Newspapers,” said editors feel that things are changing so fast, it’s hard to keep up while keeping news standards paramount.
“This is an existential fight,” Marshall said.