A State of Anticipation and Ambiguity

Posted: April 4, 2011 by Mike Carter in #10 State of the Media, Uncategorized

Where are we headed?

Another year brings another State of the News Media report from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. The eighth edition of the American centered media report featured a comparison between how American newspapers fare against newspapers from other countries, two reports on the status of community media, a survey on mobile and paid content and a report on African American media.

Most promising for journalists was the optimism the report held regarding the recovery of news organizations from the recession. On average newspaper news rooms are 30% smaller now than they were in 2000, but despite this and the 1000-1500 jobs lost over the course of the year, cut-backs in newsrooms have eased.

A trend emerges in the continuing migration of journalism to the internet which brings as much excitement and possibility as it does uncertainty.

As for Online-only news sources who, in the past have focused more on compiling stories than producing their own, in 2010 they have turned to producing independent content in a large way the report shows.

Yahoo added “several dozen” reporters across it’s news, sports and finance areas, while AOL’s burgeoning community online news network “Patch” holds down 500 jobs. Bloomberg expects to hire 100-150 journalists for its new online project “Bloomberg Government” in Washington, which will keep an eye on Capitol Hill. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. hired 100 people for its new tablet style paper called “The Daily”, although not all of these were journalists. All of these hiring’s match the number of firings in 2009, marking a first for the report.

A fundamental challenge for journalism in the 21st century lays in the fact that in the digital age, news organizations have less and less control over their future, the report states. Despite still producing the bulk of the content they carry, the reality is that each technological advance adds a new level of complexity in getting that content to consumers and advertisers.

A reliance on social networks like Facebook, aggregators like Google and software developers like Apple to get content to audiences has resulted in larger revenue streams being generated for internet advertising than from newspaper advertising, another first. Most of this advertising revenue goes to companies outside of journalism, like those mentioned above.

While this encroachment on advertising revenue streams is a challenge that journalism faces, these disseminating platforms – now mainly separate from the news organizations themselves – also control the audience data, providing yet another hurdle.

This is surprising. The implications of this are that, the very tools which make possible a whole new level of dissemination and decentralization previously unheard of, are at the same time themselves, the biggest hindrance for traditional news organizations even when they do go to an online model.

With news pursuers increasingly going mobile, first with cell phones and now with tablet devices, audience data is more important than ever for news organizations. Consumers increasingly decide for themselves, what news they want and how they want to get it. The report holds that, “the future will belong to those who understand the public’s changing behaviour and can target content and advertising to snugly fit the interests of each user.”

Additional findings show that new community news sites, like Patch, are putting as much energy into securing new revenue streams as they are into producing content. These online-only sites may be the future of journalism all together, continuing to add journalists while traditional newsrooms see a declining budget bringing their demise or  their transformation into strictly online only platforms.

In essence, according to the report, new and old media are coming to resemble each other more and more. Traditional news organizations are smaller, but they are getting younger and more adaptable to blogging, user content and multimedia approaches. The result is an innovative global media environment, increasingly migrating from print to online. But the New York Times pay-wall leads me to believe that the end of the newspaper isn’t quite yet on the horizon of inevitability. In my opinion,  new experimentation in revenue models will eventually find new solutions to the problems the report uncovers. What do you think?

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