US media is struggling against the twin forces of economic decline and technological advance, says a report today. “Journalism, deluded by its profitability and fearful of technology, let others outside the industry steal chance after chance online. By 2008, the industry had finally begun to get serious. Now the global recession has made that harder.”
The annual study on the State of the American News Media is definitive, with lots of analysis and data. The overall message is of decline and decay. “Newspaper ad revenues have fallen 23% in the last two years. Some papers are in bankruptcy, and others have lost three-quarters of their value.”
“First, the audience migration to the web accelerated substantially in 2008, and even though most of that growth was at traditional news destinations, the financial impact of that was a negative one, according to the report by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. Traffic to the 50 news websites, for instance, jumped 24%, triple the pace of growth of the year before, but online ad revenue flattened, and in newspapers it declined. Second, the recession hammered advertising and diverted attention away from innovating new revenue sources.”
And yet, as the survey points out, there is more journalism – and there are more readers – than ever before. “The problem facing American journalism is not fundamentally an audience problem or a credibility problem. It is a revenue problem-the decoupling, as we have described it before, of advertising from news.”
It notes a few trends:
- The growing public debate over how to finance the news industry may well be focusing on the wrong remedies while other ideas go largely unexplored.
- Power is shifting to the individual journalist and away, by degrees, from journalistic institutions.
- On the Web, news organizations are focusing somewhat less on bringing audiences in and more on pushing content out.
- The concept of partnership, motivated in part by desperation, is becoming a major focus of news investment and it may offer prospects for the financial future of news.
- Even if cable news does not keep the audience gains of 2008, its rise is accelerating another change-the elevation of the minute-by-minute judgment in political journalism.
- In its campaign coverage, the press was more reactive and passive and less of an enterprising investigator of the candidates than it once was.
The survey is worth reading if you have even a passing interest in the subject. As Alan Mutter, a respected commentator says, “It is the worst of times for the businesses that traditionally have funded professional journalism but the best of times to be a journalist, so long as you aren’t counting on a job at a media company to pay your bills, raise a family or fund your retirement.”