Monday, March 12, 2007
The End of Journalism as We Know It?
The Project for Excellence in Journalism has just released its much anticipated "State of the News Media 2007" report, and while the findings probably won't surprise anyone in the business, they nonetheless make for disquieting reading. Both the business and practice of journalism are undergoing a radical transformation — some might say an unraveling. The alarming part is that it's still not entirely clear what the future holds, although the report makes the point that a picture is beginning to resolve out of the static.
According to the report, "the transformation facing journalism is epochal, as momentous as the invention of television or the telegraph, perhaps on the order of the printing press itself." It is being driven by technology, but "the effect is more than just audiences migrating to new delivery systems." New technology is giving consumers of news more control over how they consume information. One consequence is that audiences are "splintering across ever more platforms." And "every media sector except for two is now losing popularity."
The splintering is driving many media outlets to specialize. "Increasingly outlets are looking for 'brand' or 'franchise' areas of coverage to build audience around," the report states. In some cases, this is "hyper-localism." In others, it's opinion. "In a sense all news organizations are becoming more niche players, basing their appeal less on how they cover the news and more on what they cover."
One interesting factoid: It looks as if the number of people who get their news online stabilized in 2006 at about 92 million people. Why should this be? The report suggests that the conventional idea of going online — meaning using a standard computer — is outmoded, since many people are now getting news and other information on mobile devices.
Other factoids: Network evening news lost another million viewers in 2006; morning network news declined as well; the audience for local television news declined even more rapidly; even as MSNBC registered some gains, Fox began to see its audience decline; magazine readership was flat, as was the radio audience. And what of newspapers? Daily circulation in 2006 dropped 3% and Sunday circ almost 4%. Meanwhile, the ethnic press continues to grow (although some analysts say it is topping out).
In one of its most unsettling conclusions, the report calls into question whether advertising will be able to continue supporting the journalistic endeavor. "On Madison Avenue," it states, "talk has turned to whether the business model that has financed the news for more than a century — product advertising — still fits the way people consume media."
As many of us are well aware, journalism has yet to come up with alternative business model. If one isn't found soon, would it be too extreme to say that journalism as we have known is terminal?
-- Tom Yulsman