What It Means to Be a Market-Oriented Newspaper

Article excerpt

In a market-oriented business, the customer is unquestionably king. The successful market-oriented firm identifies a potential market opportunity, selects a group of customers that it wants to serve and develops a strategy for efficiently meeting the wants and needs of those customers. The central business assumption is that long-run success depends on a strong, organization-wide focus on customer wants and needs.(1)

During the last decade, as the business environment has become more challenging for daily newspapers,(2) many of them have adopted a stronger market orientation. They have concentrated both on learning what their two customer groups - advertisers and readers - say they want and need from a newspaper, and on finding ways to meet those wants and needs. In newsrooms, this has brought changes to the news-making process.

Rather than relying strictly on journalists' expert judgment to decide what to publish in the newspaper, newsroom managers have encouraged reporters and editors to pay more attention to perceived reader interests. They also have asked reporters and editors to shape content to more closely conform to those reader interests.(3) This practice has drawn praise and criticism. Supporters have argued that it will help save daily newspapers from irrelevance and, perhaps, extinction.(4) Critics have disparaged it.(5) They have charged that market-oriented news organizations:

* De-emphasize serious content in favor of frivolous, entertaining information.

* Undermine the ethical fire wall between an organization's news and business operations.

* Fail to live up to social obligations to disseminate the kind of public-affairs information essential to a democracy.

This article examines those assertions as it explores what it means for a news organization to be market oriented by asking these questions:

Are organizations with a stronger market orientation more aggressive in conducting readership research than organizations with a weaker market orientation?

Do newsrooms with a stronger market orientation have different content priorities than newsrooms with a weaker market orientation?

Are newsrooms with a stronger market orientation less inclined to endorse an adversarial role for journalists than newsrooms with a weaker market orientation?

Do organizational goals differ across newsrooms with stronger and weaker market orientations?

Do senior editors at organizations in which the newsroom has a stronger market orientation report more interaction with other departments in the broader organization, including the advertising department, than do editors at organizations in which the newsroom has a weaker market orientation?

Do organizations with a stronger market orientation differ from those with a weaker market orientation in size, ownership structure or community characteristics ?

The answers to these questions are based on a 1996 national survey of 406 senior editors at 182 general-circulation U.S. daily newspapers. This survey differs from earlier quantitative research on market-oriented journalism in that the sample is larger and the questionnaire more comprehensive than most other studies of this subject. In addition, the national sample allows the findings to be generalized to all U.S. general-circulation dailies, whereas much of the earlier research has had a statewide or regional focus. The findings reported here should convey a fuller sense than previously published work of what it means to be a market-oriented daily newspaper in the mid-1990s.

Market orientation

An organizational emphasis on meeting the wants and needs of customers in a firm's target markets is a central element of a strong market orientation.(6) More precisely, Philip Kotler says the marketing concept "holds that the key to achieving organizational goals consists of determining the needs and wants of target markets and delivering the desired satisfactions more effectively and efficiently than competitors. …