Picking Apart the State of the News Media Report

    by Mark Glaser
    March 24, 2007

    i-40539346c97a908a0c446cd60360284e-State of the News Media.JPG
    The Project for Excellence in Journalism’s massive State of the News Media 2007 is like a Rorschach test for media watchers. Some people wallowed in the negative findings or attacked the criteria for the study, while others were wowed by the depth of data and the interactive elements.

    While I can’t claim to have read all 160,000 words of the study, I have followed what some high-profile folks have been saying in the blogosphere, and I also asked MediaShift readers to share their favorite info-nuggets mined from the report. In general, the report notes how most parts of the media business are hurting financially, and it tries to lay out ways that they can use digital technologies and the Internet to make a comeback.

    Richard Sambrook, director of BBC Global News, agrees on his blog with this passage from the report: “While journalists are becoming more serious about the web, no clear models of how to do journalism online really exist yet, and some qualities are still only marginally explored.”


    Sambrook adds his own thoughts:

    Currently most models for news online fall into one of three categories: Aggregators of other people’s content (Google News, Daylife.com); social functionality around news, including self-generated content (Newsvine, Digg); and traditional news organizations migrating online (BBC, Guardian, New York Times — and I would include Yahoo in this category given the way they operate). The boundaries between them are grey and some are trying to integrate the characteristics of more than one category — but there is no compelling site which delivers all three as yet…I think it’s right that we are only just beginning to re-imagine the role of journalism in the age of online information.

    That’s an important takeaway from the section on Digital Journalism, where the PEJ did extensive reviews of 38 news sites. Some sites do many things well, some do one thing very well, but none do all things well. That might be a function of our online lives and the way we bop around from site to site, or it might be a function of the immaturity of the online medium — no one has it all figured out yet.

    Tom Abate, a business reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, took Sambrook’s musings one step further on his blog. He said the problem is that journalists think in “broadcast mode” and not in an interactive mode with their audience:


    The traditional view that the role of media is to simply gather and articulate events ignores the problem-solving potential of web-based media. Nowadays we need not merely lay out the problem. We can provide the forum for discussion, if not the solution. I had a brainstorm that I’ll try to work though my newspaper and website as an experiment. The idea is to produce a story, place it in a web forum, and invite members of the audience to share their views through open blogs.

    If mass media are to survive I think they will have to become forums where professional journalists frame issues, stakeholders argue the nuances and policy makers surf the results and, one would hope, make better decisions. If we can focus public attention in this way, newsgatherers should find the advertising, sponsorships and other financial supports to meet their payrolls and expenses, and perhaps even the profit expectations of our owners.

    It’s good to see someone at the Chronicle thinking in new ways rather than trying to defend the old ways.

    Gripes and Info-Nuggets

    My biggest complaint about the report was that there were a few seemingly throw-away lines that brought up huge issues that deserve much more attention. For instance, this bizarre unattributed comment offers up absolutely no proof to back up its contention — one that would be a blockbuster in the blogosphere: “Politicians, interest groups and corporate public relations people tell PEJ they have bloggers now on secret retainer — and they are delighted with the results.” It’s a cheap shot at the blogosphere and simply can’t stand on its own without explanation.

    Kyle Redinger, who writes The Media Age blog, was upset with PEJ’s contention that news organizations should create a consortium to charge fees to aggregators:

    I was most surprised that the report argued the best online revenue model was to create content licensing consortiums (CLCs) which would charge ISPs and aggregators fees for content usage. News creators overestimate the value of their content online. I think CLCs represent a failure to innovate and change with the new media world. Hopefully newspapers will become more competitive as they embrace technology.

    Andrea Useem didn’t like the six categories that PEJ chose to judge the 38 news sites, and also was non-plussed by the kudos showered on Digg:

    I was disappointed that the report did not explain why it chose some of the six criteria for evaluating news websites, which were customization, multimedia, participation, branding, depth, and economic. Is there data to show that consumers really appreciate ‘customization,’ the ability to redesign the website to fit their needs? How many people actually take the time to do that? Given the discussion about whether Web 2.0 concepts are marketing hype, I would have expected a Pew project to provide a more in-depth analysis.

    Also, I felt the ‘Digg is democracy in action’ description was a bit glib. Digg is democracy in action for an incredibly small segment of society, judging from the overwhelmingly tech-oriented content. It’s funny that the MSM is criticized so much for being ‘elitist.’ Digg also represents the priorities of a small prileged minority, even if the system is open to anyone.

    Actually PEJ did criticize several aspects of Digg — lack of multimedia, poor economics and branding — and does mention the heavy tech focus. One thing I would have given Digg more credit for was coming up with a concept (and verb) that has been copied and spread around the Internet, with Netscape and USA Today using similar rate-a-story features.

    Here’s a rundown of some of the other favorite info-nuggets people found from the report:

    From Mark Hamilton: “Only 22.5% of alternative weekly readers were in the 25-to-34 group in 2006, down 1 percentage point from the previous year and down more than 7 points since 1995 (29.7%). Meanwhile the number of older readers (45 and up) grew to 40.8% in 2006, the first time that group has made up more than 40% of readers. That was up from 37.1% the year before and 29.3% in 1995.”

    From Michael Ho: “I was stunned by the amount of work they put into The Testing Ground widget. The 160,000 words I expected — the widget, however, I did not. It’s just the biggest and brashest of several interactive features of the site; for example, one often finds a ‘Customize This Chart’ link underneath a graphic.”

    From Steven Silvers: “This year’s report argues that the entire news media industry is breaking up into niche players, packaged and promoted ‘less on how they cover the news and more on what they cover.’ This is helping create what PEJ calls ‘the answer culture’ — a growing trend where news outlets show a vested interest in taking sides on the few issues they’ve chosen as their product to capture a share of the fragmented media marketplace.”

    From Greg Jarboe at Search Engine Watch: “Among the news nuggets in the 160,000-word report is this: ‘The press is no longer gatekeeper over what the public knows. Journalists have reacted relatively slowly. They are only now beginning to re-imagine their role. Their companies failed to see “search” as a kind of journalism.’”

    From Steve Rubel at Micropersuasion: “The share of the online population that tried [starting a blog] peaked back in January 2005 at 10% and has hovered since at 8%. Blog readership, on the other hand, is climbing. Some 40% of the online population said they have read a blog at least once, according to data from last year.”

    What else did you find that was interesting in the report? What did you like or dislike about the methodology? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

    Tagged: comments media criticism project for excellence in journalism
    • I was somewhat miffed that I couldn’t download the entire report as a PDF, only the executive summary. For someone who was hoping to read the text at times when I didn’t have access to the Internet, that was definitely a downer. I mean, I could spend the time to click on the “print this page” button and “save as PDF” every page, but c’mon – this seems like a no brainer for a simple pdf download.

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