This week, in studies that elucidate the obvious but are nevertheless pretty eye-opening: the Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project’s State of the News Media in 2014. The study (actually released last week) is an even-handed, nigh-comprehensive, analytical examination of news industry trends, developments, and problems. It’s a goldmine for news junkies and the media obsessed. And with all the hand-wringing about THE FUTURE OF JOURNALISM among its practitioners, one would expect the report to read like a funereal summary of a long execution. But it doesn’t! There’s actually reason for optimism.
Last year’s report struck a more somber note, charting declines in mainstream media due to problems that appear intractable, like the decline in traditional sources of revenue, such as print advertising; the rise of untethered readers and viewers, who don’t have as much brand loyalty and are as likely to consume media on devices as they are print/TV; and the proliferation of competing sources of information, from the web to cable. As Amy Mitchell, director of journalism research at Pew and an author of the report, writes, “Many of these issues still exist, some have deepened and new ones have emerged.”
The old channels of transmission are going to continue to decline, but 2013 saw the emergence of digital media as a robust source for rigorous, entertaining, and groundbreaking; so much so that distinctions between mainstream and digital media feel obsolete. Macrotrends are emerging that show the way. Or, as the study says: “Digital players have exploded onto the news scene, bringing technological knowhow and new money and luring top talent…The level of new activity this past year is creating a perception that something important, perhaps even game-changing, is going on. If the developments in 2013 are at this point only a drop in the bucket, it feels like a heavier drop than most.”
The study cites a “new brand” of entrepreneur, lately interested in journalism, and willing to fund it accordingly (a la Jeff Bezos, John Henry, and Pierre Omidyar). Publications ranging from BuzzFeed to Vox Media are held up as exemplars for how digital brands can be leveraged to support less cost-effective journalism–e.g. BuzzFeed now has a news staff of 170, paid for because the site draws a gazillion gif-starved eyeballs daily. But although there are roughly 5,000 full-time professional jobs at nearly 500 digital news outlets, the bulk of actual reporting still comes via the newspaper industry.
Other nuggets of note:
- • Local television remains the primary source of news for most Americans, but 25 percent of local stations don’t produce their own newscasts.
- • Ad revenue tied to digital videos grew 44% from 2012 to 2013 and is expected to continue to increase.
- • While it remains to be seen how these investments will pay off, gobs of money have been poured into digital news ventures like Vice Media, First Look Media and Mashable. Almost half of the digital news outlets surveyed by Pew researchers had revenue of less than $250,000 a year. The report called AOL’s abandoned Patch network “a conspicuous failure.”
- • From for the ten-year period ending in 2012, newspaper revenues fell 52 percent to $22 billion.
- • International reporters working for U.S. newspaper have declined 24% from 2003 to 2010.
- • Thirty percent of U.S. adults get their news from Facebook.
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