The State of the Media 2010: Can Community Journalism Save the News?
Much of what the Project for Excellence in Journalism's seventh annual State of the News Media 2010 report documents isn't exactly a surprise: opining is on the rise, in-depth reporting is on the ropes and nobody's cracked the code on how to make money. As the Columbia Journalism Review's Alexandra Fenwick said, "It's not the most uplifting news about the news ... "
This year's report is more interactive than in previous years, giving readers multiple ways to dig into the data. You can get an idea of what the news media covered, and how intensely, from the 2009 Year in the News Interactive.
There's an interactive database detailing Who Owns the News Media.
Now, a few highlights:
1. Cable and online news outlets gained audience, but all other news outlets declined. Among cable networks, Fox led overall, while CNN was the favorite destination for breaking news.
2. Newspaper circulation slid, ad revenue plummeted 43 percent over the last three years. Result: not only shrinking newsroom staffs, but a $1.6 billion annual drop in the resources devoted to reporting.
3. By contrast, nonprofit funding for journalism start-ups adds up to about $141 million since 2006.
4. Increasingly, newsmakers are the first source of information about a news event.
5. PEJ's consumer survey found that 79 percent of online news consumers said they rarely clicked on an online ad -- if ever. In addition, 82 percent said they would stop visiting their favorite online news sites if they put their content behind a pay wall.
6. The era of mass market magazines might be over.
7. NPR is number one in radio news.
8. Ethnic news emerged as one of the few relative bright spots, although challenges abound. On the one hand, some major magazines and newspapers closed. Last fall's rumor that Ebony magazine might be up for sale elicited shock and alarm. On the other hand, African American television ad revenue jumped a whopping 31 percent. Also, innovative collaborations are emerging:
"[S]ome ethnic publications in 2009 began more content sharing, both within and among different ethnicities. One Vietnamese newspaper in Seattle, Nguoi Viet Tay Bac, established a content-sharing partnership with a Spanish-language paper and another Vietnamese paper.
Also, a major African American newspaper, the Afro-American, collaborated withimpreMedia’s Spanish-language publications on an editorial about the importance of health care legislation to minorities. New America Media, an advocate for ethnic news outlets, set up online collaborations between ethnic media organizations in Los Angeles and New Orleans.2"
9. One of the few hopeful notes in an otherwise bleak picture is the emergence of high-quality, community-focused local news sites, including one noteworthy start-up founded by Blogher CE Susan Mernit. As PEJ noted, Oakland Local mixes "community building with professional standards of reporting. One feature that I particularly liked on the Oakland Local site is its SeeClickFix widget that allows residents to report problems, such as potholes and track the response.
Traditional news organizations are also going hyperlocal:
" The Seattle Times is partnering with a number of local neighborhood blogs includingwestseattleblog.com to share links and collaborate on reporting. Other legacy news organizations are looking to become aggregators of community sites as a way to deliver more micro local news to their users (and increase their value to users in the process).
Jane Stevens, the director of media strategies for the Kansas-based World Company , which looks to integrate community information, reports that there are “16 advertising-supported media networks comprising 4,700 niche news sites.” Federated Media, for example, is a network of 148 niche sites founded by John Battelle, also the founding editor of Wired Magazine. Federated Media sells advertising across its networks in a revenue-sharing arrangement and, according to Stevens, returned $25 million to its network sites in 2008."
Despite these trends, the
Joanne Ostrow wrote, "Old-school journalists don't know whether to collaborate with "citizen journalists" or warn against them." Multimedia journalism textbook author Deb Wenger highlighted the finding that 72 percent of survey respondents faulted the news media for biased reporting and asked:
"[I]s objectivity an unattainable and/or outdated concept? If unbiased coverage is still important, what should journalists do differently to mitigate bias?"
The short answer to Wenger's question begins with recognizing that objectivity, to the extent that it can be attained, comes from the use of the most objective methods of reporting and presentation available. That means, for example, making sure that one has a diverse array of credible sources on a story. It also includes considering competing explanations for data, instead of simply interpreting findings in ways that confirm preconceptions. For the longer answer, I heartily recommend Andrew Cline's primer on the subject.
NPR's Michel Martin also rejected the common charge that news media have a liberal bias and raised the larger question of whether consumers are willing to pay for informed reporting and analysis of the news and information that is vital to sustaining democracy:
"'[F]reedom isn't free' —- and neither is knowledge. So what are we going to do about it, people?"
What are we going to do, indeed?