This fifth edition of the annual report "The State of the News Media 2008,"tracing the revolution of news by the Project for Excellence in Journalism and Funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, can certainly not be summarized in a "Research Brief." However, the content is so encompassing, and the analysis so probing, that it begs excerpting to compel interested readers to pursue the complete study through the link provided.
The recently released study opens by saying "The state of the American news media in 2008 is more troubled than a year ago. And the problems, increasingly, appear to be different than many experts have predicted."
Online, for instance, the top 10 news Web sites, drawing mostly from old brands, command a larger share of audience than they did in the legacy media. And research shows blogs and public affairs Web sites attract a smaller audience than expected. Several trends, says the report, bear particular notice heading into 2008:
News is shifting from being a product - newspaper, Web site or newscast - to becoming a service. There is no single or finished news product anymore. As news consumption becomes continual, more new effort is put into producing incremental updates, as brief as 40-character e-mails sent from reporters directly to consumers without editing. But service broadens the definition of what journalists must supply. The hope is, however, that service, more than storytelling, could prove a key to unlocking new economics.
A news organization and a news Web site are no longer final destinations. They move toward being gateways to other places. As much as half of every Web page, designers advise, should be devoted to helping people find what they want on the rest of the site or the Web. A year ago, only three of 24 major Web sites from traditional news organizations offered links to outside content. Eleven of those sites now offer them.
The prospects for user-created content, once thought possibly central to the next era of journalism, now appear more limited. News people report the most promising parts of citizen input currently are new ideas, sources, comments, pictures and video. But citizens posting news content has proved less valuable, with too little that is new or verifiable.
Increasingly, the newsroom is perceived as the more innovative and experimental part of the news industry. New technologies are seen as less a threat to values, or a demand on time, than a way to reconnect with audiences. Majorities think things such as journalists writing blogs, the ranking of stories on Web sites, citizens posting comments, and citizen news sites are making journalism better.
The agenda of the American news media continues to narrow, not broaden. A comprehensive audit of coverage shows that in 2007 the war in Iraq and the 2008 campaign filled more than a quarter of the newshole and seemed to consume much of the media's energy and resources. At the same time, domestic issues each filled less than a single percent of the newshole including education, race, religion, transportation, the legal system, housing, drug trafficking, gun control, welfare, Social Security, aging, labor, abortion and more.
Madison Avenue, rather than pushing change, appears to be having trouble keeping up with it. Like legacy media, advertising agencies have their own history, mores and cultures that keep them from adapting to new technology and new consumer behavior. In the short run, this may be helping traditional media hold onto share of advertising revenue. The question of whether, and how, advertising and news will remain partners is unresolved, concludes the report.
Concluding this brief summary, the report says that an analysis of more than 70,000 stories from 48 separate news outlets in five media sectors in 2007 offers an empirical look at the content of the American media. Among the findings overall:
The agenda of the American news media is quite narrow
- The agenda of the American news media is quite narrow
- Rather than cover the world, only two countries in 2007 received notable coverage, both closely related to the war - Iran and Pakistan
- Geopolitical events in the rest of the world made up less than 6% of coverage studied that includes Afghanistan, Korea, China, Russia, Israel and everywhere else combined
- The media and the public often disagreed about which stories were important in 2007. Citizens wanted more coverage of bread and butter issues, such as rising gas prices, toy recalls, and the legislative battle over children's health insurance, and less coverage of the crisis in Pakistan, certain aspects of the Iraq debate, and of other distant places in the world.
- The media also showed a marked short attention span in 2007