State of the News Media Report: News Industry “Undermanned and Unprepared”

online newsThe State of the News Media 2013” report published on Monday, March 18, by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism documents “how news consumers view the financial struggles of the industry” and points to the “signs of the shrinking reporting power.”

Mainly, the report has found “a news industry that is more undermanned and unprepared to uncover stories, dig deep into emerging ones or to question information put into its hands.” “And findings from our new public opinion survey released in this report reveal that the public is taking notice,” according to the report. [Emphasis throughout is ours.]

David Bauder summarizes one of the main findings of the report in The Huffington Post as the following:

Years of newsroom cutbacks have had a demonstrable impact on the quality of digital, newspaper and television news and in how consumers view that work.

The stats are rather telling, and, as Lauren Indvik says in her Mashable article, “the consequences are vicious.”

On the digital news consumption front, here are some highlights, found among the “Key Findings” section of the report:

  • The clearest pattern of news audience growth in 2012 came on digital platforms, and the proliferation of digital devices in peoples’ lives seemed to be a big part of the reason.
  • In 2012, total traffic to the top 25 news sites increased 7.2%, according to comScore. And according to Pew Research data, 39% of respondents got news online or from a mobile device “yesterday,” up from 34% in 2010, when the survey was last conducted.
  • As of December 2012, about 45% of adults owned a smartphone, up from 35% in May 2011.
  • 64% of tablet owners say they get news on their devices weekly; 37% reported they do so daily.
  • 62% said they consume news on their smartphone weekly, and 36% do so daily.

Other significant findings include:

  • Estimates for newspaper newsroom cutbacks in 2012 put the industry down 30% since its peak in 2000 and below 40,000 full-time professional employees for the first time since 1978.
  • On CNN, the cable channel that has branded itself around deep reporting, produced story packages were cut nearly in half from 2007 to 2012.
  • Time magazine, the only major print news weekly left standing, cut roughly 5% of its staff in early 2013 as a part of broader company layoffs.
  • A growing list of media outlets, such as Forbes magazine, use technology by a company called Narrative Science to produce content by way of algorithm, no human reporting necessary.
  • Nearly one-third of the respondents (31%) have deserted a news outlet because it no longer provides the news and information they had grown accustomed to.
  • A Pew Research Center analysis revealed that campaign reporters were acting primarily as megaphones, rather than as investigators, of the assertions put forward by the candidates and other political partisans. […] That is a reversal from a dozen years earlier when half the statements originated with journalists and a third came from partisans.
  • 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.

Efforts by politicians and corporations to get their messages into news coverage are neither new nor surprising, says the report, noting:

What is different now — adding up the data and industry developments — is that news organizations are less equipped to question what is coming to them or to uncover the stories themselves…

For news organizations, distinguishing between high-quality information of public value and agenda-driven news has become an increasingly complicated task, made no easier in an era of economic churn.

Finally, the six major trends for this year were identified as following:

The effects of a decade of newsroom cutbacks are real — and the public is taking notice.

The news industry continues to lose out on the bulk of new digital advertising.

The long-dormant sponsorship ad category is seeing sharp growth.

The growth of paid digital content experiments may have a significant impact on both news revenue and content.

While the first and hardest-hit industry, newspapers, remains in the spotlight, local TV finds itself newly vulnerable.

Hearing about things in the news from friends and family, whether via social media or actual word of mouth, leads to deeper news consumption.

Image by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com.

About Tatyana Meshcheryakova

Tatyana has been a journalist and editor for more than 17 years, including stints at AOL and a number of trade and consumer publications in Philadelphia, covering digital technology and the publishing industry. In addition to editing hundreds of articles and blog posts each month, Tatyana is responsible for training new journalists and editors that join our team. Tatyana has a B.A. in Journalism from Temple University, and is fluent in Russian.

  

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  1. Tatyana,

    The fact that Pew refers to newspapers as “undermanned” instead of “understaffed” shows just how far behind this industry is.

    ALL news is “agenda driven,” whether it comes from FOX or NBC or Comedy Central or WSJ or NYT or 6E. The issue is not that journalism is no longer objective; rather, it no longer *pretends* to be objective. Some see that as a good thing.

    Thanks for this update on the continuing decline of the mainstream media.