March 26, 2023

Local TV News Is Following Print’s Path, Study Says

With shorter stories and scarce coverage of politics and government, local television newscasts in the United States, like local newspapers before them, are suffering from “shrinking pains,” according to the Pew Research Center.

The diagnosis comes in the center’s 10th annual State of the News Media report, which will be published on Monday. The report, covering 2012, describes cutbacks in the reporting ranks of newspapers and television networks and a surge in efforts by politicians, corporations and others to tell their own stories.

“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,” the report’s main author, Amy Mitchell, wrote in an introduction.

The report also highlighted the results of a new Pew survey that asked Americans whether they had heard much about the financial challenges that the news industry faces, like the steep decline in newspaper advertising revenue.

Sixty percent of the respondents said they had heard little or nothing, indicating that “awareness of the industry’s financial struggles is limited,” the report said. But some have sensed the results: 31 percent of respondents said they “have stopped turning to a news outlet because it no longer provided them with the news they were accustomed to getting.”

The report’s authors did find, as in prior years, a robust public appetite for news. Digital news sources are now used daily by 50 percent of Americans, according to Pew’s survey, making the Internet nearly as important a source as television. Mobile phones and tablets were mostly responsible for the surge in digital news consumption.

Computers and mobile phones, of course, redistribute news from television, radio and newspapers. But cutbacks at many of these traditional sources continued in 2012, Pew found.

The report’s authors cited an estimate from Rick Edmonds, a media business analyst at The Poynter Institute, of newspaper newsroom employment that dipped below 40,000 last year, to the industry’s lowest level since 1978. They decided to dig deep into television news coverage, partly because it has escaped the scrutiny focused on newspapers in recent years. They found that local television stations have increased their reliance on three main topics — weather, traffic and sports.

The researchers sampled the newscasts in four markets (Bend, Ore.; Houston; Milwaukee; and Pittsburgh) and compared their findings with a similar study of three of the markets in 2005. Back then, there were more taped stories and interviews; now there are more live reports from reporters in the field. The report called this a sign that “there is less in-depth journalism being produced.”

Only 20 percent of the stories in the 2012 sample were more than a minute long. Segments about weather, traffic and sports ate up 40 percent of local newscasts’ time, up from 32 percent in 2005, even though this kind of information “is now available on demand in a variety of digital platforms,” the report said.

Stories about government and politics in the markets that were sampled fell by more than half, to 3 percent of the broadcasts from 7 percent in 2005. There was also a marked decline in the percentage of stories about crime, to 17 percent from 29 percent. The volume of economic stories rose to 8 percent, from 3 percent, perhaps, the report’s authors said, because of the fragile state of the economy.

Nielsen ratings show that the audiences for local television newscasts in 2012 declined, albeit slightly, versus the prior year. The medium remains a top source of news overall, though.

Pew’s researchers didn’t find the same kinds of changes to network news programming that it found locally; in fact, they were struck by how little had changed about the big three network nightly newscasts since 2007, the last time they studied them. However, a lot had changed on the three major cable news channels, which have become more politically oriented in the last five years, the study found. Daytime programs on cable news increasingly resembled prime-time talk shows, the report said, adding that “interview segments are now as prominent in daytime cable as they are in prime time.”

As for newspapers, Pew followed up on a prediction in last year’s report that more news organizations would require customers to pay for full access to their Web sites. The number of daily newspapers doing so has more than doubled since then, according to Monday’s report, to about 450. (That figure, out of 1,380 daily newspapers across the country, included the newspapers that have announced such plans as well as the ones that have actually started.)

“This is already helping rebalance the print industry’s heavy reliance on advertising over subscription revenue,” the report said, adding that digital advertising for newspapers “grew only at an anemic 3 percent rate in 2012.”

The report also identified a split in digital advertising. While the news industry “continues to lose out,” it said, “on the bulk of new digital advertising,” some outlets are seeing growth from sponsored content. An online twist on “advertorials” of old, these ad units appear within a publication’s Web page and are often called “native ads.”

“Traditional publications such as The Atlantic and Forbes, as well as digital publications BuzzFeed and Gawker, have relied on native ads to quickly build digital ad revenues, and their use is expected to spread,” the report said.

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French Council Strikes Down 75% Tax Rate on Rich

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault quickly pledged that the government would reintroduce a revised version of the tax for next year to address the criticisms of the Constitutional Council, which ruled that the measure did not tax affected households equally.

The 75 percent rate was always a symbolic political gesture, as Mr. Hollande himself has acknowledged. It was to expire in two years and would have applied only to annual income above 1 million euros, or about $1.3 million, and so would have affected no more than a few thousand taxpayers.

Tax revenues from the measure would have reached just a few hundred million dollars, little more than a bucket of water in France’s deficit sea; the budget deficit is about $112 billion this year.

The council ruled that the tax was unfair because it would have applied unevenly to different households with the same combined income. A couple making a combined 1.5 million euros a year, for instance, would be exempt from the tax so long as both partners earned less than 1 million euros individually. If one partner earned more than 1 million euros, however, the couple would have been required to pay the 75 percent rate on their combined earnings of more than 1 million.

Mr. Hollande introduced the tax during his presidential campaign — a sharp break from his center-right rival, Nicolas Sarkozy, who had established a tax ceiling of 50 percent of earnings — to prove his leftist credentials in the face of a challenge from a candidate supported by the Communists, Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

Among the opposition on the right, politicians said the 75 percent rate was tantamount to theft, calling it “confiscatory” and insisting that it would drive investors and entrepreneurs out of the country. There have been reports and rumors of as many as 5,000 wealthy French citizens moving out of the country, though there are no official figures.

Most recently, in what has grown into a minor national scandal, it was revealed that the actor Gérard Depardieu would be taking up residence in Belgium, where there is no wealth tax and where the maximum income tax rate is 50 percent.

In France, without the 75 percent tax rate, the highest income tax rate will now be 45 percent. (With the invalidation of the 75 percent rate, French Twitter users have implored Mr. Depardieu to return to France, some facetiously, some not.) The 45 percent rate, which will apply to income above 150,000 euros, or about $198,000, is itself an increase from the previous top rate of 41 percent.

The Constitutional Council approved the increase in its ruling Saturday, along with several general elements of the government’s planned budget for next year: an increase in tax withholdings, the taxing of capital gains at the same rates as income tax and a rise in the wealth tax rates.

It invalidated a proposed 75 percent tax on complementary retirement pensions, however, calling it “confiscatory.” The council reduced the rate to 68 percent.

Mr. Hollande has committed to cutting France’s budget deficit, which stood at 4.5 percent of gross domestic product this year, to 3 percent next year. But he has emphasized tax increases rather than spending cuts. To meet the target, Parliament this month approved a spending freeze that would save about $13 billion, along with $26 billion in additional tax revenues — including those meant to come from the 75 percent rate — for the 2013 budget. But the budget was drawn up on the basis of the government’s growth estimate of 0.8 percent, a number viewed by many economists in France and elsewhere as unrealistically high.

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Bucks Blog: Politicians and Their Personal Finances

For this weekend’s Your Money column, I tried to profile the poorest members of Congress in all the land. Given the limited financial disclosures that our elected representatives must make, which the Center for Responsive Politics does a nice job of collecting in one place, it’s hard to say for sure who has the lowest net worth.

But Representative Joe Walsh, who is in a tough re-election battle, is probably among the poorest. He has also had his personal finances laid bare in the last couple of years. Chicago-area reporters have revealed tax liens, driver’s license suspensions, a child support dispute, a foreclosure and other issues.

At what point should politicians’ financial troubles keep you from giving them your vote? Should a single foreclosure be disqualifying? An accusation of being behind in child support payments, even one that is later resolved, as Representative Walsh’s was? And is a pattern of such problems over time evidence of a kind of irresponsibility that simply goes too far? Or is it a sad sort of behavioral problem that may not transfer into how someone would handle the public’s money?

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Papademos Says Greece’s Creditors Could Be Forced to Take Losses

In a wide-ranging, 90-minute conversation on Monday night, his first with a newspaper since he came to office in November, Mr. Papademos also called on Greek politicians to pass the economic measures demanded by Greece’s foreign lenders in exchange for bailout aid, saying vested interests with political ties had helped to block the changes needed to revive the country’s rigid and moribund economy.

But he added that European leaders did not act swiftly enough to tackle the debt problem when it first arose in early 2010. And he said Greece’s foreign lenders should have introduced growth measures earlier in its program for the austerity-squeezed country, whose economy is expected to shrink by 6 percent this year and where unemployment is 18 percent and rising.

Mr. Papademos’s most pointed remarks appeared aimed at the private bondholders who have increasingly more sway over Greece’s fate than do its politicians or even the prime minister.

Mr. Papademos said that if Greece did not receive 100 percent participation in a program in which bondholders would voluntarily write down $130 billion from Greece’s unwieldy $450 billion debt, the country would consider passing a law to require holdouts to take losses.

“It is something that has to be considered in the light of expectations about the degree of the participation to be achieved,” Mr. Papademos said. “It cannot be excluded. It is contingent on the percentage.”

The prime minister is a former vice president of the European Central Bank, a nonpolitician brought in to lead an interim government with a mandate to secure new bailout funding as part of a new loan agreement.

His comments came after talks broke down last week between Greece and its creditors over the terms of a “voluntary” default, in which the private bondholders will agree to a 50 percent reduction or more in the value of their holdings. The so-called troika — comprising the European Central Bank, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund — has demanded such a deal as a condition to extending more aid.

Many private investors, like hedge funds, pension funds and banks, would just as soon see an involuntary default, because much of their holdings are insured through credit default swaps.

But European leaders are dead set against such a “credit event,” which could ignite a chain reaction with unpredictable and potentially catastrophic results for the world financial system.

However, the prime minister said he expected the talks to be completed successfully. “The talks are not straightforward, because they aim at a voluntary restructuring of public debt, and to achieve a number of objectives simultaneously, objectives that involve trade-offs,” Mr. Papademos said. “Taking into account the complexity of the exercise, I would say that we are very close to reaching an agreement.”

There is a growing sense in Europe that a Greek default cannot be avoided, if not now then perhaps in March, when a bond comes due that the country cannot pay without more financing from the troika. “I am aware of that,” Mr. Papademos said, adding that he thought the new financing would be approved. “I think the facts reveal that the European partners have taken extraordinary measures to help Greece address its problems.”

In conversation Mr. Papademos, who lived in Frankfurt and served as a vice president of the European Central Bank from 2002 until his retirement in 2010, is a true technocrat — quiet, polite, measured, rational. Unlike his technocratic counterpart, Prime Minister Mario Monti of Italy, who has acute political instincts and appears to thrive in the Italian political circus, Mr. Papademos is clearly ill at ease with the thrust and parry of political life.

He has not yet held a news conference in Greece, and was taken aback by a reporter’s questions about how the crisis had affected his friends and family or where he kept his personal savings.

“I have moved absolutely nothing out of Greece,” he said.

He bristled at the suggestion that he was out of touch. “I am fully aware of the adjustments that are needed and of the sacrifices being made by the people. You don’t only have to look at the numbers, the fact that the unemployment rate is 18 percent. You can walk in the city and see.”

He asked Greeks to put their sacrifices in perspective. If all goes well, he said, they could expect “an end to austerity” next year. He added that the tough measures were aimed at ensuring Greek wage stability in the future, including for low-income wage earners.

Mr. Papademos has not gotten a lot of help from his own government, which so far has failed to pass or carry out legislation required by the troika in exchange for more financing. But experts say that Mr. Papademos is doing his best considering the situation he inherited.

“I’m not suggesting there has been a revolution, but I think there’s a slow change,” said Loukas Tsoukalis, the president of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, an Athens research institute. “Greece is showing enormous difficulty and reluctance in going ahead with reforms, and very often reluctance in implementing what has already been passed — but it is moving slowly.”

But timing is everything. Mr. Papademos said his mandate was to secure a new bailout and new loan agreement, not to solve all of Greece’s problems, and that his government would be short-lived.

“I would say the baseline scenario is for elections to be held sometime in April,” he said.

Until then, he added: “I am confident that we can overcome this crisis, provided that we remain united in our effort to address our debt and competitiveness problems. And I think that the Greek people are united; it’s important also that the political forces are united in line with the will of the Greek people.”

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Economix: Are Jobless Benefits Keeping the Unemployed Complacent (and Invisible)?

In an article on Sunday, I wrote about why our unemployment crisis has been largely ignored by Washington. Among the major factors I cited were that unemployed workers are less likely to vote than their employed counterparts. Additionally, the jobless are not as politically organized as they once were because they are more geographically dispersed and because the institutions that organized them have become weaker.CATHERINE RAMPELL


Dollars to doughnuts.

Several readers wrote to me emphasizing another factor that I had nodded to only briefly in the article: that many unemployed people are still receiving benefits nearly two years into their unemployment spell, whereas in the past benefits typically lasted a few months. While jobless workers today may not be living comfortably, they are at least able to get by, meaning that they have less need to resort to more radical organizing.

Some of the community organizers I spoke with for the article agreed with this argument.

“I’ve been involved with the unemployed since the mid-’70s, and this is the least amount of organization we’ve seen,” said John Dodds, director of the Philadelphia Unemployment Project. “In every other recession it was a major struggle to extend unemployment benefits. This recession came on as we went into the 2008 elections, and everybody was bending over backwards to help the unemployed and offer benefits.”

That sentiment has obviously changed, of course. Today much of the conversation about unemployment benefits is focused on whether they discourage workers from getting jobs. In some states politicians have decided not to receive additional federal money for benefits because they believe benefits are turning the unemployed into complacent, lazy couch potatoes, thereby delaying job growth. (See my colleague Motoko Rich’s article today on how the exhaustion of jobless benefits may actually hurt, rather than help, hiring growth.)

There has been so much skepticism about the utility of jobless benefits that last year Senator Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican, even suggested drug-testing people before giving them benefits.

Over the coming months, millions more unemployed Americans will start losing benefits, partly because states are cutting back the number of weeks people can receive checks, and partly because many people have been unemployed so long that they’re no longer eligible for even the maximum duration of benefits.

If people like Mr. Dodds are right, this mass benefit exhaustion may become a tipping point into greater political organization and radicalization of the unemployed, along the lines of what was seen during the Great Depression. As the bread and circuses run out, workers become more desperate, and desperation may lead to more political instability.

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Economix: Book Chat | ‘The Economics of Enough’

Book Chat

Diane Coyle is a British economist who blogs at The Enlightened Economist and is an active Twitter user. Her previous book, “The Soulful Science,” examined the revival of economics as a field relevant to the rest of us, and her latest book is called “The Economics of Enough.”

Diane Coyle, author of Courtesy of Alex SedgwickDiane Coyle, author of “The Economics of Enough.”

The Financial Times, The Independent (of London) and The New York Times, among others, recently reviewed “The Economics of Enough.” In an interview with the British site The Browser, Ms. Coyle listed her own favorite economics books. My exchange with Ms. Coyle follows.

Q. Your book, as you write, is about “how to make sure what we achieve in the present doesn’t come at the expense of the future … how to run the economy as if the future matters.” One big challenge seems to be getting people to sacrifice for the future at a time when the present isn’t very good. How do you think about the politics of “the economics of enough”?

Ms. Coyle: Looking to the long term is difficult enough in business and finance, and it’s all the more so in the realm of politics. Voters are disillusioned, and part of the explanation is that public policy is so clearly failing to tackle the complexities and uncertainties of the modern economy. There is too much cynicism about politicians, I think. Most people go into public life because they start out with the noble ambition making things a bit better for their fellow citizens. So why do they all seem to end up doing short-term pork-barrel politics?

One answer is that politicians and voters alike are unaware of the extent of the economic problems. Believe it or not, the government debt is much worse than it looks because it currently excludes the implied promises of future Medicaid and Social Security payments as the population gets older. To take another example, there are no official statistics on the depletion of the country’s natural resources. One of the main measures we look at, gross domestic product, indicates how much income the national economy produces in a year, but we don’t know how much of the nation’s capital — in the widest sense, including natural resources — has been eaten to generate it. Statistics need to be tailored to their era, and developing official measures of the nation’s wealth, as well as its income year to year, would give politicians both the information and the ammunition they need in order to build a solid economic legacy.

Princeton University Press

A second reason we lack the “politics of enough” is that people are unlikely to make sacrifices for the future if the future looks likely to be as unfair as the present. The decline in the real incomes of millions of families, especially in the U.S., while the very rich have grown much richer make it unlikely that a majority of voters would have any confidence about benefiting from future growth. This is a question of politics, and the extent of the power certain groups such as bankers have been allowed to develop; and it’s also for me a question of morality, the strong ethical commitment to one’s fellows needed for the market economy to work well.

Q. In the context of the huge long-term deficits facing rich countries, you say that recent generations have been living beyond their means. What do you think is the one kind of tax increase that would best help us live within our means? And, similarly, the one kind of spending cut?

Ms. Coyle: The current system of taxes and government spending encourages consumption and the over-use of resources today and creates too little incentive to save and invest. The one tax to increase now is a carbon tax. You don’t even have to worry about climate change to accept it has many benefits. In particular, it will encourage innovation in noncarbon-based energy supplies from renewables to nuclear. This is a field in which the U.S. and other Western economies could build on their strong science base to build an area of technological strength for the future, and at the same time reduce dependence on oil and gas imports from overseas. There are multiple good reasons for introducing a carbon tax.

Government spending needs to be redirected away from massive corporate subsidies — including to the financial sector but also big companies in health care and agribusiness — and instead towards infrastructure investment and education (which is infrastructure of a different kind for the digital economy). But the really painful cut in expenditure needs to be in government support for older people. Across the Western economies, retirement ages and the age threshold for benefits from the government will have to increase. If not, healthy and active over-60s benefiting from the taxes of a declining proportion of working people in the population are going to bankrupt the government and undermine the arrangement of mutual benefit that keeps any society stable. And, yes, I’m fully planning on working until I’m 70.

Q. And how should we be spending money in ways that we are not now — or not doing enough of now?

Ms. Coyle: Governments are what we have to take decisions for all of us, and that means there are three ways governments should spend our tax dollars. One is in making judgments about which groups need support from the rest of the society. This is why democracy is so important, to legitimize choices between spending on one group rather than another. A second is when there are what an economist calls public goods, which mean that private spending overlooks the wider benefits of some activity and therefore expenditure would be too low. Examples range from defense spending to public parks. The third is when it’s important that the government can take decisions over a longer time horizon than any private business or individual can.

In my book I focus on the first and the third. The first because in a society whose average age is rising, which is the case in all Western democracies, voters will have a growing tendency to favor programs for older people at the expense of the young. Yet the younger people do most of the work, drive the growth of the economy, and pay the taxes that fund government expenditure. This could become extremely divisive politically, especially given the scale of the cuts in deficit spending currently needed to restore the government’s finances to a sustainable state. In the U.K., the coalition government has gone ahead with brave — and controversial — public spending cuts, but these are likely to fall more heavily on younger age groups, while some subsidies for the elderly are politically untouchable because older people are more likely to vote. So I argue we need to make a generational assessment of government expenditure.

On the question of the time horizon for investments to pay back, any business raising money through the financial markets or the banks will need to be earning a return on investment within two or three years, but the advanced economies need investments that might not pay back for 20 or 50 years. Investment in basic research is another example, where spending might not earn its return for decades, if at all. But who could argue that past investment has not served America well, putting the country at the global frontier for science and technology? In the U.S. and U.K., investments made in the 1950s and 1960s (or even the 1890s), such as the highways and ports, are still serving us well. Government spending needs switching from current needs to investment anyway, and the question needs to be: which projects are so long-term that future generations will be the ones to benefit from the investment? What is the current legacy for the nation going to be?

Q. I may be grasping for optimism here, but is there any good reason to think we’ll be able to make this transition?

Ms. Coyle: The triumph of democracy, in the end, is that it offers a path for difficult transitions. People know things have to change, and I think are both ready and eager for the political debate that requires, a different kind of debate from politics as usual. So I’m definitely an optimist about it — as long as we do everything we can to put the tools in place for that process to start.

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