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Annual State of the Media Report Shows Dwindling Reporting, Continued Boost in Social Media, Word of Mouth News Gathering

In their annual State of the Media Report, the Pew Research Center dissects the changing landscape of the media and how its transition to the Internet is creating budget problems that are directly affecting the quality of traditional reporting work.

In a year that saw unprecedented coverage of a Presidential election, traditional media continued to watch budgets tumble downward with less resources to do in-depth investigative reporting than ever before. The assumption that the negative impact of this trend outweighs the positive impact of crowd-sourced information and enhanced individual voice, however, is entirely up for debate. 

According to Pew, the thin line between news and advertisement is continuing to shrink. The slow bleed of traditional media has made its way from newspapers to local news. In a special section titled, The Changing TV News Landscape, Pew shows that the lack of budget for original material is causing local news stations to change the traditional news format. Sports, weather and traffic now account for 40% of the content which has spurred a wave of desertion by once loyal viewers:

Nearly a third of U.S. adults, 31%, have stopped turning to a news outlet because it no longer provided them with the news they were accustomed to getting. Men have left at somewhat higher rates than women, as have the more highly educated and higher-income earners—many of those, in other words, that past Pew Research data have shown to be among the heavier news consumers. With reporting resources cut to the bone and fewer specialized beats, journalists’ level of expertise in any one area and the ability to go deep into a story are compromised. Indeed, when people who had heard something about the financial struggles were asked which effect they noticed more, stories that were less complete or fewer stories over all, 48% named less complete stories while 31% mostly noticed fewer stories. Overall, awareness of the industry’s financial struggles is limited. Only 39% have heard a lot or some. But those with greater awareness are also more likely to be the ones who have abandoned a news outlet.

So, how are politicians and companies having such trouble getting out their message while they are putting more and more resources into the practice of messaging? Much of the problem lies in the diminishing number of journalists and the rising number of publicists. Basic supply and demand shows that there is not an efficient way of producing enough news to cover the 24-hour news cycle.

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.

This is part of the trend of people switching to the Internet and social media for their news. Much of this is due to the deterioration of traditional media but it is also the result of a natural interest in getting information via rapid-response word of mouth (technically a very traditional, if not prehistoric approach in and of itself). Pew Research looked into the phenomenon and found that news heard from friends and family often leads to deeper news consumption: 

For nearly three-quarters of adults (72%), the most common way to get news from friends and family is by having someone talk to them—either in person or over the phone. And among that group, close to two-thirds (63%) somewhat or very often seek out a news story about that event or issue. Social networking is now a part of this process as well: 15% of U.S. adults get most of their news from friends and family this way, and the vast majority of them (77%) follow links to full news stories. Among 18-to-29 year-olds, the percentage that primarily relies on social media for this kind of news already reaches nearly one-quarter. And the growing practice of dual-screening major news events adds more opportunity to share news electronically. Friends and family are still just one part of most consumers’ news diets –and a smaller part than going directly to news outlet themselves, as an earlier Pew Research study revealed.

The full report provides statistical research and opinion polls to give the complete picture. How the media deal with the transition from being traditional outlets to Internet companies may be uncertain, but skyrocketing human thirst for instant information is an absolute. So, follow us on Twitter and Facebook :)


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