For the first time in years, every sector of television news lost audience in 2006, and newspapers, despite garnering a larger audience than ever for their content via online platforms, faced increasingly downbeat assessments of their business models, a new report from the D.C.-based Project for Excellence in Journalism finds.
According to the fourth-annual edition of State of the News Media, shifting economic fundamentals are spurring mainstream news organizations to try to build audience around “franchise” areas of coverage, specialties, and even crusades. Cable’s”argument culture” is giving way to an “answer culture,” a growing pattern that has news outlets, programs, and journalists offering solutions, certainty, and the impression of putting information in clear order for people.
As with past reports, the 2007 study, which was funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, offers detailed information on nine different sectors of the press — newspapers, magazines, network television, cable news, local television, the Internet (including blogs), radio, ethnic press, and alternative media. For each sector, the study collected available information on audience, economics, ownership, newsroom investment, and public attitudes.
The findings do not mean that journalism in America is dying. Indeed, the report finds that traditional newsrooms are most likely to be the successful newsrooms of the future. But the consequences of an overall trend toward franchise branding remain unclear, with evidence mounting that the news industry must become more aggressive about developing a new economic model. At the same time, whether the investment community sees the news business as a declining industry or an emerging one in transition remains a key question.
“Trends that we have been tracking now for four years are reaching a pivot point,” said PEJ director Tom Rosenstiel. “Only one media sector, the ethnic press, is still growing, and every measurement for audience — even page views and visitors — is now being questioned. Things are now moving faster than companies can even recognize. Mainstream news media are adapting, in part, by focusing on specialties. In a sense, every outlet is becoming more of a niche player with reduced ambitions.”