GANAHL ON MEDIA: State Of News Media

OK, I admit it: I’m an addict…a stat-addict. To be sure, I’m not alone, there are many stat-addicts: sport-stats, market-stats, caloric-stats, you name it. Me, I’m a media-stat addict, and I can’t get enough stats about circulation, advertising or site traffic. Lucky for me I found the mother lode of all media stats, the Pew Research Center’s The State of the News Media: An Annual Report on American Journalism. The series of reports are the work of the center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ).

The 2009 report is the 6th in a 6-year series beginning in 2003. It analyzes 9 major media sectors across 5 areas: audience, economics, newsroom investment, ownership and digital journalism. Its analysis is based on ‘aggregating as much publicly available data as possible,” and PEJ’s own extensive content analyses. At 180,000 words, or 700 plus printed pages, and dozens of charts it is mammoth. Go figure: that’s over one million words during the 6-year project! The online edition allows us true stat-addicts to sift the data and create our own multi-variable charts. Cool, huh?

So…what is the ‘state of the news media?’ PEJ concludes that the 6th annual report “is also the bleakest.” While equal numbers of news seekers still seem to value the practices and values of traditional journalism, they are increasingly abandoning legacy media as sources of traditional news, and migrating to ‘on demand,’ online platforms. These online platforms deliver news when audiences want it, in formats they want. These formats include wi-fi, mobile, social networking sites, blogs, video, microblogs, RSS and e-mails. News audiences now “hunt and gather what they want when they want it.” Additionally, many of these news seekers then share, or repurpose the content through the very same platforms they initially hunted.

Thus, the crisis is less about audience size, and more about audience migration, and the resulting shifts in platform revenue from legacy media to online media. The gains in online platform revenue are nowhere equal to the losses in legacy media revenue. PEJ describes it is as the “decoupling …of advertising from news.” Add to this today’s economic collapse, which has “at least doubled the revenue losses”, caused by the migration of audiences from legacy media and you start to appreciate the depth of the crisis.

So what are the media habits of these online news hunters and gatherers that are precipitating such change? PEJ concludes that while those that use the Internet has remained relatively constant for the last several years at 70% to 75% of the country’s population, they increasingly ‘hunt and gather’ for news more frequently and for longer periods of time.

Nielsen's ranking of the top 10 news sites.
Nielsen's ranking of the top 10 news sites.

Moreover, online platforms seem to be more popular sources of news when compared to most traditional news sources. According to a Pew Research Center survey (August 2008) 37% of the total Internet users go online for news at least 3 times a week, compared to the 29% that watch network nightly news and the 22% that watch network morning shows. Another PRC survey (December 2008) found 40% relied on online sources for national and international news compared to 35% that relied on newspapers. Where do they seek their online news? PEJ reports the top 5 most popular news sites in 2008 according to Nielsen Online are MSNBC, Yahoo! News, CNN, AOL News and The New York Times.

As to the future of legacy media, PEJ concludes, “There are growing doubts…about whether the generation in charge has the vision and boldness to reinvent the industry.” I agree. The skills necessary for traditional journalism don’t readily translate into online entrepreneurship. The future of legacy media is tied to their ability to forge increased collaborations with innovative online partners. And that…means more excitement for us stat addicts! Stay tuned.

Dr. Richard Ganahl is a professor in mass communications at Bloomsburg University, PA. His column GANAHL ON MEDIA is an occasional column about media issues. Ganahl is a former media manager, publisher, entrepreneur and consultant. He is co-editor with Dr. Louisa Ha of the award-winning Webcasting Worldwide (2007), and the founding faculty advisor of BU Now, a multi-media, student-managed media blog site. You can email him at rganahl@bloomu.edu.

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