Pre-2002 Back Issues
State of News Media 2006 Provides
Sobering View of Journalism ... Again
"Will we recall this as the year when journalism in print began to die?"Updated: April 2006
It's an ominous start to the Project for Excellence in Journalism's (PEJ) third "State of the News Media: An Annual Report on American Journalism."
But as with many headlines, the subtleties, nuances, and caveats are left to the body of the copy, and the answers are far from unequivocal.
The 2006 report, released in March reports "not the end of journalism that some have predicted" but rather "a seismic transformation in what and how people learn about the world about them." As the report said a year ago, reporters and editors are losing power as information gatekeepers, and citizens "are assuming a more active role as assemblers, editors, and even creators of their own news." With those changes intensifying, journalists need to "redefine their role and identify which of their core values they want to fight to preserve – something they have only begun to consider."
As for that opening question, the PEJ report says "some fears are overheated. For now, the evidence does not support the notion that newspapers have begun a sudden death spiral." At the same time, it emphasizes, "the most sanguine reaction to these changes ... strikes us as glib, even naive." It points to declining resources dedicated to original newsgathering, and offers troubling examples of smaller news rooms across virtually all the traditional news media.
"The changes will probably also make it easier for power to move in the dark .... The worry is not the wondrous addition of citizen media, but the decline of full-time professional monitoring of powerful institutions."
In a set of six "new trends" characterizing the news media in 2006, the report offers these insights:
- more outlets are covering fewer stories, providing "more accounts of the same handful of stories each day."
- Big-city metro papers "that came to dominate in the latter part of the 20th century" may be the "most threatened" by current trends. "They are being supplanted by niche publications serving smaller communities and targeted audiences" even though those outlets are the ones "most likely to have the resources and aspirations to act as watchdogs," identify trends, and define the larger community.
- "The idealists have lost" the "decades-long battle at the top" with accountants. "If you argue about public trust today, you will be dismissed as an obstructionist and a romantic," the report says it was told by a major newspaper editor.
- "Finally," traditional media are inching toward technological innovation, but the path forward remains highly uncertain.
- News aggregators such as Google and Yahoo! "are also playing with limited time," because they depend for their survival on content from the very same forces, the media, they are depriving of revenue. "The more they succeed, the faster they erode the product they are selling .... Already there are rumblings." Will they begin generating their own original reporting? Will they be made to pay for the content they are taking from traditional media? Can they become "more than technology companies," and, if so, "will they have more than rhetorical allegiance to the values of public-interest journalism?" Stay tuned.
- "The central economic question in journalism continues to be how long it will take online journalism to become a major economic engine, and if it will ever be as big as print or television."
The entire "State of the News Media 2006" report is available online. Printable versions of web pages and entire chapters are available. Those chapters include in-depth sections on newspaper, radio, magazine, cable, online, and ethnic media, and together they provide a broad overview of what an earlier year's report called the "epochal" changes under way in how news is gathered, communicated, and consumed.
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