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.
The 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 Insidescience.org 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.”