A Pew study of US newspapers released today finds that national and international news coverage is declining as ad revenue plummets an emphasis shifts toward local stories. While those survey results may not seem so bad, newspaper editors also report that the biggest customer protests are being seen in response to cuts to crossword puzzles and TV listings – not decreasing news quantity or quality.

Comics we’d understand – but protesting the loss of crossword puzzles? In all seriousness, the survey’s respondents reported widespread optimism and excitement as well as fear and decreased employment. We question how long that optimism will last.

Investigative Journalism?

Survey respondents claimed that there had been an actual increase in investigative efforts, despite theories (see Nick Carr, for example) that the web would cleave entertainment news ad revenue from the investigative journalism it has long subsidized.

Respondents reported a decline in institutional knowledge but an increase in use of the web for research. Web publishing included, the editors report that they are publishing a greater quantity of stories than ever before – but with fewer editors watching those stories for quality.

The Rise of Local News

Newspapers are increasingly delegating national and international coverage to the biggest news organizations among them. Local news is where local press shines. While that makes sense, we wonder whether the rise of location-aware computing devices could lead to a shift in even local advertisers and be the last nail in the coffin after Craigslist.

There may be other ways for even local news to be monetized, though. How many online news organizations make their biggest money from events? Newspapers could certainly organize sponsored events concerning topics of local interest. While that’s one interesting idea, there are probably a limited number of viable ideas to keep the revenue flowing long term.

This is What Change Looks Like

The fast paced firehose of the web seems to beg for shallow, poorly edited reporting – but perhaps things are just changing. We don’t write in Old English any more, either.

Here at RWW, many of us love the print newspaper and don’t want to see it go away. We’d also like the newspaper companies to stop delivering giant piles of paper to our houses each morning, though.

Declining revenue and staff is probably not good for any institution, but the editors interviewed by Pew said their remaining staff is fired up with competitive enthusiasm. That’s something that’s been missing in the newspaper business for awhile.

These are changing times, clearly, and we believe that news is just one of countless industries that will be upended by the changing web. For a look at one way newspapers might thrive in these times, check out our coverage of the Guardian’s recent acquisition of leading business blog PaidContent.

Photo: 60’s Paper by Flickr user DaisyBush, proof again that vapid reporting is nothing new.