The state of journalism today

The folks at the nonpartisan Pew Research Center just issued a new report entitled, State of the News Media 2010, and, as you might guess, based on the fact that I’m writing about it here, it doesn’t paint a very rosy picture… Here’s a clip:

…The numbers for 2009 reveal just how urgent these questions are becoming. Newspapers, including online, saw ad revenue fall 26% during the year, which brings the total loss over the last three years to 43%.

Local television ad revenue fell 22% in 2009; triple the decline the year before. Radio also was off 22%. Magazine ad revenue dropped 17%, network TV 8% (and news alone probably more). Online ad revenue overall fell about 5%, and revenue to news sites most likely also fared much worse.

Only cable news among the commercial news sectors did not suffer declining revenue last year…

For newspapers, which still provide the largest share of reportorial journalism in the United States, the metaphor that comes to mind is sand in an hourglass. The shrinking money left in print, which still provides 90% of the industry’s funds, is the amount of time left to invent new revenue models online. The industry must find a new model before that money runs out…

The losses are already enormous. To quantify the impact, with colleague Rick Edmonds of the Poynter Institute, we estimate that the newspaper industry has lost $1.6 billion in annual reporting and editing capacity since 2000, or roughly 30%. That leaves an estimated $4.4 billion remaining. Even if the economy improves we predict more cuts in 2010…

Technology is further shifting power to newsmakers, and the newest way is through their ability to control the initial account of events. For now at least, digital technology is shifting more emphasis and resources toward breaking news. Shrinking newsrooms are asking their remaining ranks to produce first accounts more quickly and feed multiple platforms. This is focusing more time on disseminating information and somewhat less on gathering it, making news people more reactive and less pro-active. It is also leading to a phenomenon in which the first accounts from newsmakers — their press conferences and press releases — make their way to the public often in a less vetted form, sometimes close to verbatim. Those first accounts, sculpted by official sources, then can spread more rapidly and widely now through the power of the Web to disseminate, gaining a velocity they once lacked. That is followed quickly by commentary. What is squeezed is the supplemental reporting that would unearth more facts and context about events. We saw this clearly in our study of news in Baltimore, but it is reinforced in discussions with news people. While technology makes it easier for citizens to participate, it is also making giving newsmakers more influence over the first impression the public receives.

The ranks of self-interested information providers are now growing rapidly and news organizations must define their relationship to them. As newsrooms get smaller, the range of non-journalistic players entering the information and news field is growing rapidly. The ranks include companies, think tanks, activists, government and partisan activists. Some are institutions frustrated by the shrinking space in conventional media and the absence of knowledgeable specialists to cover their subjects. Others are partisans and political interests trying to exploit a perceived opportunity in journalism’s contraction. There are varying degrees of transparency about the financing and intentions of these efforts. Some are quite clear. Others present themselves as purely journalistic and independent when in fact they are funded by political activists, yet only by digging and cross-referencing websites can the agenda and financing be divined. In an age where linking and aggregation are part of journalism, news organizations must decide how they want to interact with this growing cohort of self-interested information players. Will they pick up this material and disseminate it? Can they possibly police it? Can they afford to ignore it? The only certainty is that these new players are increasingly vying for the public’s and the media’s attention, and their resources, in contrast to that of traditional independent journalism, are growing…

It’s probably also worth pointing out that the last big Ann Arbor story to break in the news, wasn’t broken by, but by the Detroit News, which recently concluded a 14-month investigation of what’s being referred to as a “multi-headed Ponzi hydra” that spanned from Detroit to Ann Arbor. No offense to my friends who are reporters at, but I have a hard time imagining, given the constant demand for fresh, snappy content they’re faced with, that they have two days to devote to a story, let alone 14-months. And, I think this demonstrates why journalism, at least as it’s been practiced historically, is so vitally important. It truly is, as others have suggested, our fourth branch of government, and I’d hate to see it diminished to the reprinting of corporate press releases. Sadly, however, that’s the direction we’re headed in.

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  1. dragon
    Posted March 16, 2010 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

    You bring up two very different problems with the current media. On the national level there are very good writers dispensing truthful info and critique of the bullshit being shown on the and op-ed of major papers if you have the time and are willing to read.
    What I think you are getting at is the lack of quality local news and I agree with you on that point. Speaking for myself, this is the only blog of several dozen I read regularly that has a single contributer. You seem to have many knowledgable friends, why not give them a chance? I learned more from Murph and NotOneOfThe CoolKids today than from anything the ann arbor news posted. I guess what I’m saying is local people will be attracted to a quirky blog but stickiness needs more variety, more points of view and more commenters.
    It might even make you rich.

  2. Kristin
    Posted March 17, 2010 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    I’m sure linked to the story, though….

  3. Kelsy
    Posted March 17, 2010 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    As I think Mark is saying, it’s not that we don’t have good journalists in this area. It’s that they aren’t given time to develop stories. Sure, they may issue a FOIA request every now and then, and sometimes they might even break news, but they aren’t going to do deep investigative pieces. They don’t have the time and budget for it. It’s the system that’s broken.

  4. Robert
    Posted March 17, 2010 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    Look at the state of communication in general – interpersonal communication especially. Journalism is lofty by comparison.

  5. Curt Waugh
    Posted March 17, 2010 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    The system is not necessarily broken, but it is definitely chaotic right now. The telephone business was horribly chaotic when they broke up Ma Bell and now telephony is better than it’s ever been. Such major change just takes time. You don’t undo the several-hundred-year-old print for profit industry overnight.

    dragon, what you have described sounds a lot like what Andrew Sullivan is doing in his blog for The Atlantic (and what I personally think the future of this medium will resemble – recognizable rock-star journalists leading a group who all contribute to a single blog in that person’s name). He is the head of a groups of assistants who contribute their voice in addition to doing a great deal of research for him. He also has guest opinions and such. That said, it’s also his full-time job. I’m surprised Mark does as much as he does with his limited resources (mostly time).

  6. Edward
    Posted March 18, 2010 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    I like They’ve got a great article this morning called “How a tea kettle changed my view of parenthood”.

  7. Robert
    Posted March 19, 2010 at 7:21 am | Permalink has yet to do a comprehensive report on ball shaving.

  8. Edward
    Posted March 19, 2010 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    Be patient. They’re only 11 months into their investigation.

  9. Demetrius
    Posted September 11, 2015 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    Every afternoon, I get an e-mail from the Ann Arbor edition of MLive called the “3 at 3,” that displays what they consider the three most important local stories they think I should know about.

    Yesterday they were (in this order):

    – Mac and cheese franchise coming to Michigan Stadium, Crisler Center

    – Where to eat and drink on Michigan football game day in Ann Arbor

    – Man wrestled to ground after attempting to stab Ann Arbor liquor store owner (which was mostly just a re-reporting of an existing A2 Police report).

    I really appreciate the work that Mark Maynard (and his blog) is doing to help bring some real issues to light (and I know the the folks at the A2 Chronicle tried valiantly) but our region really NEEDS some quality journalists committed to properly covering local government (and non-government) institutions, serious investigative journalism, etc.

    I know many of the kids at MLive are working really hard, for little money, but we all deserve so much better …

  10. Frosted Flakes
    Posted February 15, 2016 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    Click and Bland.

  11. Frosted Flakes
    Posted February 26, 2016 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    Click fired.

    Just Bland.

  12. Cassandra
    Posted February 24, 2017 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    White House Bars New York Times and Other Outlets from Briefing

    Trump at CPAC: Right’s Unlikely Hero Renews Attack on Press

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  1. […] The state of journalism today [3/16/2010] […]

  2. […] a Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy [6/21/2009] – Where News Breaks [8/10/2009] The State of Journalism Today [3/16/2010] Cuts Staff Considerably [3/13/2011] What do people really think of […]

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