Tuesday, March 13, 2007

US report State of the Media 2007 says some Bloggers are on Secret Retainers

The State of the News Media 2007 is the fourth edition of the US Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) annual report on the health and status of American Journalism.

Its goal is to gather in one place as much data as possible about all the major sectors of journalism, to identify trends, mark key indicators, note areas for further inquiry and provide a resource for citizens, journalists, and researchers.

For each area the PEJ has produced original research and aggregated existing data into a narrative. The statistical data also exists in an interactive area called Charts & Tables where users can customize their own graphics. This year, the authors lso offer a detailed report on the status of online journalism, based on a close quantitative examination of a diverse sample of news websites. “Digital Journalism: A Topography” identifies what qualities of the web are being emphasized and which are not. The study also includes an interactive component that allows users to find the qualities they are looking for and test their favorite sites.

The study is the work of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, a non political, non partisan research institute that is part of the Pew Research Center in Washington. The study is funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts and was produced with the help of a number of partners, including Rick Edmonds of the Poynter Institute, Andrew Tyndall of ADT Research and a host of industry “readers.”

The full report is comprehensive, totaling more than 160,000 words.

The business of journalism is entering a new phase in 2007 -- one of "more limited ambition," according to an annual report published on Monday by the US Project for Excellence in Journalism.

The fourth annual edition of The State of the News Media, analyzes trends in newspapers, cable, network and local television, radio, ethnic news and attitudes toward media.

The report says that: with audiences splintering across ever more platforms, nearly every metric for measuring audience is now under challenge as either flawed or obsolete — from circulation in print, to ratings in TV, to page views and unique visitors online.

Every media sector except for two is now losing popularity. Even the number of people who go online for news — or anything else — has stopped growing. Only the ethnic press is up.
The definitions of enemy and ally in the news business are changing. Newspapers have begun to partner, for instance, with classified-job-listing Web sites they once denounced, brought together by mutual fear of free sites such as Craigslist.

With fundamentals shifting, we sense the news business entering a new phase heading into 2007—a phase of more limited ambition. Rather than try to manage decline, many news organizations have taken the next step of starting to redefine their appeal and their purpose based on diminished capacity. Increasingly outlets are looking for “brand” or “franchise” areas of coverage to build audience around.

The Project says that in the face of falling ad revenues and audience, it predicts that media outlets will increasingly try to brand themselves based on either a geographic place or a personality, or target a certain audience. That could mean a newspaper closing its foreign and national bureaus and focusing on "hyper-local" coverage, or a network TV show dropping the cloak of objectivity and ramping up its editorial attitude, like CNN's "Lou Dobbs Tonight," where the presenter campaigns for protectionism. It may also involve asking its readers and viewers to provide more citizen journalism, a term used to describe news generated by nonprofessionals.

The report says that the electronic media is in transition from what it calls the "Argument Culture," epitomized by the canceled CNN shoutfest "Crossfire," to the "Answer Culture," exemplified by the branded persona of CNN anchor Anderson Cooper and the exposure of child predators by NBC's "Dateline."

For an emerging cohort of Web sites it is the involvement of everyday people (some alternative news sites now come closer than ever to the promise of authentic citizen media).

In a sense all news organizations are becoming more niche players, basing their appeal less on how they cover the news and more on what they cover.

The report says that the consequences of this narrowing of focus involve more risk than we sense the business has considered. Concepts like hyper localism, pursued in the most literal sense, can be marketing speak for simply doing less. Branding can also be a mask for bias.

Handled badly, the new strategy might also render a big city metro paper irrelevant. The recent history of the news industry is marked by caution and continuity more than innovation. The character of the next era, far from inevitable, will likely depend heavily on the quality of leadership in the newsroom and boardroom. If history is a guide, (be it Adolph Ochs, Ted Turner, or Google) it will require renegades and risk-takers to break from the conventional path and create new directions.

“I really don’t know whether we’ll be printing The Times in five years, and you know what? I don’t care,” the paper’s publisher and chairman of the New York Times Company, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., told an interviewer earlier this year. The head of country’s most esteemed news company meant to sound an optimistic tone about journalism’s future, but the statement, like the industry, seemed to teeter between boldness and uncertainty.

The good news for traditional media organizations, said project director Tom Rosenstiel, lead author of the study, is that they are finally recognizing the challenges that have chipped away at the industry for years. The bad news, he said, is that they have few good answers for how to change their business model.

The industry must find a visionary leader, he said, like cable news magnate Ted Turner, who foresaw the potential of cable television and translated it into CNN.

The report asks: "Does the industry have a vision that is bold enough and does it have leaders whom journalists and audiences will follow?"

The authors say that traditional journalism is not, as some suggest, becoming irrelevant. There is more evidence now that new technology companies have had either limited success in news gathering (Yahoo, AOL), or have avoided it altogether (Google). Whoever owns them, old newsrooms now seem more likely than a few years ago to be the foundations for the newsrooms of the future.

But practicing journalism has become far more difficult and demands new vision. Journalism is becoming a smaller part of people’s information mix. The press is no longer gatekeeper over what the public knows.

Journalists have reacted relatively slowly. They are only now beginning to re-imagine their role. Their companies failed to see “search” as a kind of journalism. Their industry has spent comparatively little on R&D. They have been tentative about pressing for new economic models, and that has left them fearful and defensive. Some of the most interesting experiments in new journalism continue to come from outside the profession — sites such as Global Voices, which mixes approved volunteer “reporters” from around the world with professional editors.

There are signs, meanwhile, that those the press is charged with monitoring, including the government, corporations and activists, have reacted more quickly. Politicians, interest groups and corporate public relations people tell PEJ they have bloggers now on secret retainer — and they are delighted with the results.

"The paradox of professionalizing the medium to preserve its integrity is the start of a complicated new era in the evolution of the blogosphere," the report says.

In some ways, the news business is going through many of the same transitions the music industry has undergone over the past several years, as both have seen the realization of an economic theory dubbed "the long tail" by Wired magazine editor Chris Anderson.

The "long tail" refers to how the demand curve of our culture and economy no longer revolves around a small number of mainstream products, in this case major newspapers or TV networks.

Instead, the demand curve has a long "tail" consisting of an infinite number of bloggers, podcasters, video uploaders and others who are creating news-oriented content tailored to individual niches.