There’s an enormous amount of important information in this latest Pew report for anyone who considers staying well-informed an essential civic duty.
The excerpts below are from the “Overview”, which itself is quite long. I haven’t had a chance to read through the entire report as it would likely take days, however what I have read is both compelling and disquieting.
For those who have neither the time nor the inclination to slog through the entire report—or who need something “tweetable” & eye-catching—there’s an excellent Overview Infographic here (it’s huge, but very well done).
Please be sure to visit the source page as there are several links there to other reports and surveys that I didn’t include due to time constraints. Added emphasis is mine.
In 2012, a continued erosion of news reporting resources converged with growing opportunities for those in politics, government agencies, companies and others to take their messages directly to the public.
This adds up to a news industry that is more undermanned and unprepared to uncover stories, dig deep into emerging ones or to question information put into its hands.Signs of the shrinking reporting power are documented throughout this year’s report. Estimates for newspaper newsroom cutbacks in 2012 put the industry down 30% since its peak in 2000 and below 40,000 full-time professional employees for the first time since 1978….A growing list of media outlets, such as Forbes magazine, use technology by a company called Narrative Science to produce content by way of algorithm, no human reporting necessary. And some of the newer nonprofit entrants into the industry, such as the Chicago News Cooperative, have, after launching with much fanfare, shut their doors.
This adds up to a news industry that is more undermanned and unprepared to uncover stories, dig deep into emerging ones or to question information put into its hands. And findings from our new public opinion survey released in this report reveal that the public is taking notice. Nearly one-third of the respondents (31%) have deserted a news outlet because it no longer provides the news and information they had grown accustomed to.
At the same time, newsmakers and others with information they want to put into the public arena have become more adept at using digital technology and social media to do so on their own, without any filter by the traditional media. They are also seeing more success in getting their message into the traditional media narrative.
So far, this trend has emerged most clearly in the political sphere, particularly with the biggest story of 2012—the presidential election. A Pew Research Center analysis revealed that campaign reporters were acting primarily as megaphones, rather than as investigators, of the assertions put forward by the candidates and other political partisans. That meant more direct relaying of assertions made by the campaigns and less reporting by journalists to interpret and contextualize them. This is summarized in our special video report on our Election Research, only about a quarter of statements in the media about the character and records of the presidential candidates originated with journalists in the 2012 race, while twice that many came from political partisans. That is a reversal from a dozen years earlier when half the statements originated with journalists and a third came from partisans. The campaigns also found more ways than ever to connect directly with citizens.
“Journalists get lots of pitches…these days, which is partly a reflection of how the number of journalists has shriveled while the number of publicists has grown.” —Journalist David CayThere are signs of this trend that carry beyond the political realm, as more and more entities seek, by various means, to fill the void left by overstretched editorial resources. Business leaders in Detroit, MI, for example, have created an organization to serve as a kind of tour guide to journalists with the goal of injecting more favorable portrayals of the city into media coverage. The government of Malaysia was recently discovered to have bankrolled propaganda that appeared in several major U.S. outlets under columnists’ bylines. A number of news organizations, including The Associated Press, recently carried a fake press release about Google that came from a PR distribution site that promises clients it will reach “top media outlets.” And recently, journalist David Cay Johnston in writing about a pitch from one corporate marketer that included a “vacation reward” for running his stories, remarked, “Journalists get lots of pitches like this these days, which is partly a reflection of how the number of journalists has shriveled while the number of publicists has grown.” Indeed, an analysis of Census Bureau data by Robert McChesney and John Nichols found the ratio of public relations workers to journalists grew from 1.2 to 1 in 1980 to 3.6 to 1 in 2008—and the gap has likely only widened since.
Efforts by political and corporate entities to get their messages into news coverage are nothing new. What is different now—adding up the data and industry developments—is that news organizations are less equipped to question what is coming to them or to uncover the stories themselves, and interest groups are better equipped and have more technological tools than ever.
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.
More at the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism…
The end of the “Overview” page identifies six major trends of the year (detailed descriptions of each are available at the link above):
- The effects of a decade of newsroom cutbacks are real – and the public is taking notice.
- The news industry continues to lose out on the bulk of new digital advertising.
- The long-dormant sponsorship ad category is seeing sharp growth.
- The growth of paid digital content experiments may have a significant impact on both news revenue and content.
- While the first and hardest-hit industry, newspapers, remains in the spotlight, local TV finds itself newly vulnerable.
- Hearing about things in the news from friends and family, whether via social media or actual word of mouth, leads to deeper news consumption.