Diversity Advances Both Journalism, Business

Article excerpt

ASNE goal 2000. News 2000. Partners 2000. What these programs share is a belief that newspapers in 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.(1)

It is now the norm, not the exception, to use readership research to determine content and format.(2) Targeted content (i.e., geographically zoned issues, special sections, and niche publications) is growing exponentially.(3) 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.(4) 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."(5)

Critics charge that the recent emphasis on marketing is overshadowing journalism's social responsibility function.(6) This case study analyzes 76 in-depth interviews with reporters and editors at the Los Angeles Times to determine staff attitudes toward the paper's program to enhance diversity in newspaper content and newsroom staffing while increasing profits through broadened circulation into growing ethnic communities.

Background

Market-Driven Journalism

Based on microeconomic theory, McManus states that competition and exchange in four distinct markets drive news production.(7) Those markets are investors, advertisers, sources and consumers. 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 to advertisers.

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.(8) McManus describes news as "an elaborate compromise" between the two ideals governing news production and among the four market forces acting on media corporations.(9) 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."(10) 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."(11) In McManus' terms, economic rationalism is replacing social responsibility as the reasoning underlying media routines.(12)

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.(13) 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. …