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Death spiral: 31% desert media outlets as newsroom staffs shrink 30%

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Politics,Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets

Nearly one-third of the nation has given up on a favorite media outlet because it no longer provides the news people want, according to a new "annual report" on American journalism.

The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism tells Secrets that 31 percent of those polled have deserted a news outlet because the stories aren't up to snuff.

Pew offers two possible reasons. First, newsrooms have been slashed 30 percent since the industry peak of 2000. There are now fewer than 40,000 full-time news professionals, the first time since 1978 that the numbers are so low.

Second, TV stations have cut back news coverage. Pew's annual report reveals that sports, weather and traffic now account for 40 percent of local TV news. Nationally, CNN has cut the number of stories it covers by half.

"This adds up to a news industry that is more undermanned and unprepared to uncover stories, dig deep into emerging ones or to question information put into its hands," said Pew.

The newsroom death spiral, sometimes resulting in fewer stories, is especially being noticed by big news consumers.

"Men have left at somewhat higher rates than women, as have the more highly educated and higher-income earners -- many of those, in other words, that past Pew Research data have shown to be among the heavier news consumers," said the survey.

"With reporting resources cut to the bone and fewer specialized beats, journalists' level of expertise in any one area and the ability to go deep into a story are compromised. Indeed, when people who had heard something about the financial struggles were asked which effect they noticed more, stories that were less complete or fewer stories over all, 48% named less complete stories while 31% mostly noticed fewer stories," added Pew.