IT IS QUITE A PARADOX. THERE HAS NEVER BEEN MORE TO WRITE ABOUT—YET THE NUMBER OF NEWSROOM STAFF IS IN RAPID DECLINE
Without a well informed public, you can’t have democracy—and you certainly cannot have a well informed public without sufficient active members of the media. How many is sufficient? I have absolutely no idea, but a reduction of 30 percent over twelve years—as we increasingly become an information age—seems drastic by any standards.
But surely 40.6 thousand is sufficient? Not necessarily. That figure refers to newsroom staff which includes editors and all kinds of people who support the process of producing the news—and this is a very big country.
Realize also that although the national news is what has a tendency to dominate, what really counts is local news—and if the Fourth Estate is to keep a skeptical eye on what is happening locally, lots of bodies are needed to do the job.
One of the great weaknesses of U.S. media—in my opinion—is that the profit motive dominates all. In Europe, most stations have to devote time to the news as a condition for having their license in the first place. In the U.S., no such obligation seems to exist, and a license holder can do pretty much as he or she wants.
As a consequence, you have vast numbers of radio stations—to give just one example—operated from a single central location in the interests of efficiency—and the local element ignored completely.
That may be the most profitable way to do things, but I doubt it serves the public interest—and I’m far from sure it is even good business.