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Times Columnist Uncovers His Darkest Story

News You Can't Use

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The incredible shrinking newspaper is starting to lose some of its old-fashioned foundations.

Nearly two-thirds of the papers surveyed by the Project for Excellence in Journalism have cut back on space for foreign news at a time when America is fighting two wars. Nearly half say they are devoting fewer resources to covering such stories; the Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer and Baltimore Sun have closed their remaining overseas bureaus in the past three years. A mere 10 percent say foreign news is "essential."

National news hasn't fared much better, with 57 percent of newspapers saying they have cut the space devoted to such issues. More than a third have reduced business coverage. Science and arts reporting is also shriveling. All this, says the project, "reduces the marketplace of ideas."

On the rise: a 62 percent jump in community news and a 49 percent rise in state and local news -- especially in education -- where papers are arguably the most indispensable. Ninety-seven percent of editors at the 259 papers surveyed called local news "very essential" to their product.

With the business being squeezed by declining revenue and circulation, six in 10 papers reported that they cut full-time staff in the past three years -- a figure that rises to 85 percent at newspapers with daily sales over 100,000.

And how are readers reacting to these leaner publications?

Diane McFarlin, publisher of the Sarasota, Fla., Herald-Tribune, told the group she has gotten no letters of complaint about less local news or fewer investigative pieces. "What I get is hate mail about taking the TV listings, cutting the size of the crossword or moving the comics around. That's what enrages people."

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