Reduction in Reporting Affects Public Use of News Media

While content marketing and self-publishing are creating new opportunities for trained journalists, it’s worthwhile to reflect on what is happening to “traditional” news reporting. Could all of the diffierent forms of content being produced by associations, corporations, and special-interest groups actually be replacing old-school news-reporting in terms of how we get our news? It’s an important question, particularly to any writer considering journalism as a career.

PewNewsMediaThe Pew Research Center’s “2013 State of the News Media” report notes that the continued erosion of reporting resources in newsrooms has converged with growing opportunities for newsmakers to their messages directly to the public. And while 60 percent of the public is unaware of the financial reasons for the cutbacks in reporting, 31 percent of Pew survey respondents say they have stopped turning to a potential news outlet because it no longer provides the news they were accustomed to getting.

Here are some other statistics from the report:

Newspapers: Employment in the newspaper industry is down by 30 percent since its peak in 2000, and below 40,000 employees for the first time since 1978.

Local TV: On local TV news, the amount of coverage of government issues has been cut in half and sports, weather, and traffic now account for 40 percent of the content.

Cable News: On cable news channels, interviews and opinions have replaced coverage of live events and breaking news. The coverage of live events during the day (which requires a correspondent and a crew) fell 30 percent from 2007 to 2012.  Interview segments were up 31 percent.. CNN was the only one of the big-three cable news channels to produce more straight reporting than commentary. On Fox News, opinion accounted for 55 percent of the newshole. On MSNBC, commentary filled a full 85 percent of the days studied in the research.

News Magazines: All of the major news magazines saw declining audiences in 2012. Although subscriptions remained relatively stable, newsstand sales of news magazines fell 16 percent on average.

Radio News: Athough listening to content seems to be as popular as ever, the amount of news has become a smaller piece of the piece on the broader array of platforms now available for listening to content. The report notes that many of the streaming options do not even include the top-of-the-hour news headlines that air on most AM/FM stations.

Word of Mouth: According to the report, many people (72%) get most of their news from friends and family via word of mouth. Of these, 15 percent get news from family and friends through social media sites. Nearly 25 percent of 18 to 25-year-olds get news from friends and family on social media. Two-thirds of Americans say they will seek out a full news story after hearing about an event or issue from friends or family.

Digital News Consumption

In 2012, the total traffic to the top 25 online news sites increased 7.2 percent, according to ComScore. According to Pew Research data, 39 percent of respondents in 2012 got news online or from a mobile device “yesterday,”  up from 34 percent in 2010.

The number of people using smartphones and tablets to read news has risen. Some 31 percent of adults owneed a tablet computer as of 2013–almost four times as many in 2011. As of December 2102, about 45 percent of American adults owned a smartphone, up from 35 percent in May, 2011. Accessing news is one of the most popular uses for the devices. Fully 65 percent of tablet owners said they get news on their devices weekly; 37 percent said they did so daily. The trend was similar with smartphone users: 62 percent said they consume news of the device weekly; 36 percent do so daily.

The Impact of These Changes

“There are all sorts of contributors to the evolving landscape of news, and in many ways, more opportunities for citizens to access information,” says Amy Mitchell, acting director of the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. “But there are more signs than ever that the reduced reporting power in the news industry is having an effect, and may weaken both the industry’s capacity to produce in-depth journalism and its credibility with the public at the same time that others are gaining more voice.”

Cutbacks in the news industry means that media outlets are unprepared to uncover stories, dig deep into emerging ones, or question information that is put into their hands.

At the same time, newsmakers are more adept at using digital technology and social media to put information into the public arena without any filter by the traditional media.

In 2012, Pew Research Center analysts confirmed that many campaign reporters were acting primarily as “megaphones” rather than investigators of the assertions put forth by the candidates and other political partisans. At the same time, the campaigns also found more ways than ever to connect directly with citizens.

The Pew Reseach Report notes that while traditional newsrooms have shrunk, other new players are producing content that might advance citizens’ knowledge about public issues. As examples, they cite Kaiser Health News published by The Kaiser Family Foundation and support by the American Institute of Physics. Some news outlets have started carrying this content, with direct attribution of the source.

Pew analysts note that “For news organizations, distinguishing between high-quality information of public value and agenda-driven news has become an increasingly complicated task, made no easier in an era of economic churn.”


The State of the News Media 2013: The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism

Overview Infographic: The State of the News Media 2013

Learn about the Future of Journalism at Encyclo

WRITERS. For a clearer view of how the journalism world is changing, visit Encyclo—the encyclopedia on the future of news. Produced by the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University, Encyclo lists and describes the organizations having the biggest impact on how news is gathered, assembled, distributed, and consumed.

Encyclo website about future of journalism

In addition to traditional news organizations such as the New York Times, The Atlantic, and CNN, Encyclo discusses Internet-enabled newcomers to the news business. These newcomers range from non-profit organizations that focus on high-end investigative work to “content farms” that have turned content into a commodity and given new meaning to the term “article writing.”

According to the Encyclo website, “We believe there’s something to be learned from both ProPublica and Gawker Media, from the Wall Street Journal and WikiLeaks, and from the Texas Tribune to the Huffington Post.”

Encyclo also includes entries on technology firms that are having a major impact on the news business, including Google, Apple, Twitter, Facebook, and Craiglist.

Each encyclopedia-style write-up in Encyclo summarizes what’s important about the organization from a future-of-news perspective. Updates to each entry incorporate the latest major announcements about how the organization’s business model or services are evolving.

The creators of Encyclo encourage readers to help keep the entries up-to-date. They have set up a page on the site through which you can tell them what entries they should add, update, improve, or fix.

Encyclo was made possible by a grant through the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.



Do You Have What It Takes to Be a Chief Content Officer?

Photo of journalist at typewriterWRITERS. As a trained journalist who currently provides freelance content-marketing support, I was pleased to see that “Training as a print or broadcast journalist” topped the list of the 11 key traits Ann Handley listed in her Marketing Profs article on “How to Hire a Chief Content Officer.” She notes that journalists are trained to tell a story, and their innate understanding of audiences gives them a more nuanced, outside perspective that marketers can sometimes lack.

Ann, who is chief content officer of Marketing Profs and co-author of the book “Content Rules,” says that finding a Chief Content Officer with the right combination of skills is important because “The person in charge of your content sets the tone for your site.”

If you think you might be interested in becoming a chief content officer, here are the 11 key traits Ann listed and described in her article:

1. Training as print or broadcast journalist

2. Nose for a story

3. Digital intuition (an understanding of how the Web works)

4. Business acumen

5. An amateur passion (e.g. you already produce content just for fun)

6. A community leader (connections with potential contributors)

7. Social DNA

8. An open mind

9. Knowledge of the industry (or not)

10. A winning personality

11. Editorial skills

Ann advises employers that “The key is to find people who understand and embrace the fundamental thesis of Content as Opportunity. Businesses now have both an imperative and the incentive to produce top-shelf content.”

A Wish List, Not a Checklist

In my opinion, the 11 traits Ann Handley describes in her article are right on the money. But these traits probably represent more of a wish list than a checklist. Realistically, it may be very difficult to find a single individual who excels in all 11 areas.

Ann acknowledges that some journalists aren’t interested in content-development work because they fear “selling out” or crossing over to the “dark side” (even if they might earn more money).

Frankly, I think there valid reasons why some journalists don’t regard content development as a viable choice, and I’ll explain why in a minute.

I have worked in a variety of settings: academia, non-profits, a NASA research center, an ad agency, an association, a publishing company, and privately held companies.

In terms of “content development,” working for a NASA Public Affairs Office was ideal. My mission was to find and write stories that would help assure taxpayers and Congressional budget-committee members that government funds were being used productively by the research center’s rocket scientists, aircraft-engine developers, and energy-technology engineers. I particularly loved writing stories about entrepreneurs who were using NASA technology to develop new products or start new businesses. (In fact, a NASA researcher first told me about an advanced networked-communications research project that has since evolved into the Internet.)

But truthfully, my most enjoyable jobs were at the ad agency and publishing company. That’s because in these jobs 1) I was working side-by-side with like-minded writers and creative pros; and 2) writing was part of the core business. The quality of the writing was part of what the publishing firm and ad agency were selling. Content development was never viewed as a questionable overhead expense that might easily get slashed whenever marketing gurus starting promoting the next big thing in marketing.

Why Journalists Might Not Jump at Content Jobs

In addition to feeling undervalued in a marketing-driven work culture, I can think of three other reasons journalists might shy away from seeking full-time content-development jobs:

Fear of repetitive work. In some companies, content development might simply involve writing and editing variations of the same story day after day. Journalists thrive on seeking stories that are fresh, unusual, or important.

Clashing motivations. Most writers don’t go into journalism for the money. In contrast to marketers who seek to make a difference on the company’s bottom line, journalists want to make a difference to our democracy, society, and understanding of a changing world. Working in a newsroom is comfortable because a journalist’s co-workers tend to share the same values and sense of purpose.

Bad experiences with marketers. In the pressroom at trade shows, journalists routinely share horror stories about less-than-positive experiences with marketers and PR representatives. While journalists were striving to earn credibility and the trust of their readers, some marketers have arrogantly tried to dictate how certain stories should be told. Threats to pull advertising from the journalist’s publication always made matters worse.

So, here’s my advice to journalists who might be considering a full-time career as a content developer:

Be selective about the opportunity. It won’t feel like you’re selling out if you genuinely believe in the company’s products, services, and core values. Plus, the company can’t benefit from your skills unless you are genuinely enthusiastic. Authenticity matters.

Understand how your content-development work will be reviewed, evaluated and measured. This will reveal a lot about the culture in which you will work.

Find out how your potential employer defines “quality content.” Ask for examples of the type of work they admire. This can tell you whether you would be a good fit for their organization and whether they are likely to be receptive to your ideas and recommendations.

So, yes, I agree with Ann Handley that corporate content-development positions can provide some terrific opportunities for trained journalists. And, I agree that the employer won’t get the full benefits of having a chief content officer unless they hire a person with the right traits and attitude.

In certain circumstances, an experienced journalist would make an excellent chief content officer. But it’s also important to understand why some journalists may choose not to embrace the thesis of Content as Opportunity.

In my opinion, it can be beneficial to hire journalists to consult with and train marketing staff and then balance content-development projects with other types of work. Some marketing departments get so wrapped up in meeting month-to-month goals they lose sight of other trends occurring in the world around them. So, a good journalist could not only develop content, but also report on emerging trends that might require a company to adjust future goals. Journalists are not only good at content development; some also excel at market research and analysis.

So, what do you think? Agree? Disagree? If you are a journalist who has had experience working on both sides of the fence, I would love to hear from you!


Marketing Profs Article:
How to Hire a Chief Content Officer: 11 Key Traits by Ann Handley

Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks and Webinars that
Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business by Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman

Content Marketing Institute:
Chief Content Officer Job Description Sample Template: by Joe Pulizzi


Editorial Excellence Can Help Marketers Escape Content Chaos