Thursday, July 11, 2019


This past Monday [link] Spark News featured an analysis of the ratings performance of NPR News/Talk stations and commercial radio News and Talk stations based on Nielsen data from April 2019 for 44 PPM markets. We found that in 32% of the markets noncommercial public radio stations had more listening and listeners than commercial stations.

In that post we opined: Though some commercial stations say their format is “news,” major staffing cuts hurt their ability to compete.

This is not just about commercial radio. Two new studies show that staffs at virtually all news providers, except digital and public radio, are shrinking.

First, is a new report from the Pew Research Center [link] that shows newsroom employment in the U.S. has dropped a quarter since 2008. The greatest decline is at newspapers.

Pew reports that:

From 2008 to 2018, newsroom employment in the U.S. dropped by 25%. 

In 2008, about 114,000 newsroom employees – reporters, editors, photographers and videographers – worked in five industries that produce news: newspaper, radio, broadcast television, cable and “other information services” (the best match for digital-native news publishers). 

By 2018, that number had declined to about 86,000, a loss of about 28,000 jobs.

Bob Papper
Second, is the 2019 Radio, Television, Digital News Association (RTDNA) Newsroom Survey [download the full report here], conducted by Hofstra University professor Bob Papper. 

Unlike previous years, this year Papper was gushing about the growth of public radio newsrooms. In the report [link] he wrote:

The biggest differences [between 2018 and 2019] in radio news staffing are between commercial and non-commercial stations. Along with a news director, the average commercial radio station has half a reporter (0.5) while the average non-commercial station has almost 2 (1.9).

The average staffing at commercial stations edged up from 1.6 people a year ago to 1.7 this year. But the average at non- commercial stations went from 3.4 last year to 6.4 this time around.

The chart on the right is from Papper’s report. It shows that the average full-time staff at noncommercial stations is now almost four times larger than the full-time staff at commercial stations.

Papper said his research indicates that public radio news staffs will continue to grow:

Public radio stations were nearly 4 times as likely [than commercial stations] to have increased staffing over the past year and are more than 5 times as likely to be planning to grow in the coming year.

According to Papper, public radio stations are showing significant growth in the number of beat-specific reporters. His research shows considerable hiring of reporters to cover education, specific geographic areas, government, the environment, health and even innovation.


Last year we took Professor Papper to task for omissions about the impact of NPR News/Talk stations. In a series of emails with Papper we raised several questions about his research:

• We asked why he lumped public radio news stations and commercial radio news stations together in one number.

We asked why he didn't specify which stations were “NPR News/Talk” stations.

Papper replied: NPR News/Talk is not listed as a radio format because it is, pretty much by definition, “News/Talk.” That’s where it’s listed. The purpose of that chart was to provide a big picture look at where the radio news in the survey sample was coming from.

• We asked Papper why he concluded that commercial radio stations air more local news than public radio stations.

Papper replied: Most local radio news is delivered within radio newscasts – and that includes public radio. I spent more than a dozen years as a public radio news director, and we had local newscasts. The station still does.

• We asked Papper about the growing differences between news staff sizes at commercial and public radio stations.

Papper replied:  Don’t expect those staffing numbers to make non-commercial radio look like MPR. As you well know, Minnesota Public Radio is an operation unto itself. I doubt there are more than three public stations in the country on a staffing par with MPR.

If the measure is total number of local radio news staffers, I’m confident that the total number in commercial radio far exceeds the total number in non-commercial radio.

• We asked Papper why he doesn’t compare the audience reach of commercial stations and public radio stations.

Papper replied:  If the measure is total audience reached (either cume or AQH), then public radio still isn’t going to win the battle ... especially with giant all-news stations like WINS and WCBS on the commercial side. But the bigger point is that I don’t report audience. It’s well outside the scope of what I can do.

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