State of the News Media Circa 2010
Newspapers continue to headline the hardest hit, and the web has failed to emerge as the panacea. A full 90% of newspaper revenues remain tied to their print versions, and online advertising actually fell. The study suggests that only 21% of online readers actually click on adjacent ads, yet 62% of news consumers access the Internet for at least a portion of their news. Online newspaper readership grew by 14% in 2009.
The report references Rick Edmonds of the Poynter Institute, who estimates that newspapers have lost $1.6 billion in reporting and editing capacity since 2000, down 30%. Even as the economy stabilizes and shows signs of recovery, he expects continued cuts in 2010.
Print circulation continues its free fall, down another 10.6% in 2009. Daily circulation has dropped 25.6% in the last decade. Only the Wall Street Journal advanced in the last year, passing USA Today as America's largest daily newspaper.
Contrary to popular wisdom, however, newspapers are not going extinct. Closures and printing cutbacks have mostly centered on two-newspaper towns, and newspaper stocks have stabilized.
New journalistic models have proliferated in this vacuum. Jan Schaffer of J-Lab estimates that $141 million of nonprofit money has poured into commercial, nonprofit, public, and university-led news ventures, yet this accounts for a mere 10% of what has been lost over the last decade.
News consumers navigate an increasingly fragmented media environment. A little more than a third (35%) identify a favorite news destination and a mere 19% would continue to visit a news site that constructed a "pay wall." Yet 80% of web news traffic targets a mere 7% of sites, 67% of them "old media" outlets. 13% offer news aggregation, and only 14% produce original online-only content through reporting, not mere commentary.
The news organizations themselves are increasingly becoming niche operations, with more focus and necessarily narrower ambition. News, in a sense, has become "unbundled," as we no longer rely upon a single source.
New media outlets offer significant promise, but still depend upon their older peers for original content. 80% of blogs link to "U.S. legacy media." "Pro-am" partnerships like those explored by the New York Times may illuminate the path ahead.
As mentioned earlier, the only growing segment of the media is cable news, and their fortunes are tied to a retreat toward partisanship and an elevation of edge and opinion in place of objective journalism.
Network news is not on life support, either. The report contends that erosion continues, yet the 22.3 million Americans who tune into network news broadcasts each evening eclipse the cable news audience times five. However, network newsrooms have not been spared from industrywide cuts.
Local news outlets are experiencing accelerating audience declines beyond that of their networks, as have the network's morning news programs, long a source of strength.
Magazines have been perhaps hardest hit. Their very place in the 24-hour news cycle remains in question. Newsweek's focus on opinion-centered journalism is indicative of an industry in search of a sustainable path forward.
In sum, the 2010 State of the News Media survey suggests a continuation of ongoing trends for coming year. Doomsday predictions of extinction are probably overblown, individual casualties aside, and promising alternatives lie in the wake. However, a fundamental disjuncture remains: information wants to be free, and journalists need to eat. The path forward in 2010 and beyond depends upon resolving this perplexing revenue disparity for the good of democracy.