State of the News Media – Pew Research 2014 Report

Every year, the Pew Research Journalism Project releases a ‘state of the nation’ study on how journalism and news media are progressing nation-wide.

The study addresses many, many metrics: which demographics are doing what, which platforms are performing in which verticals, and assessing where the creme de la creme are focusing their efforts.

According to the overview of the report,

Digital players have exploded onto the news scene, bringing technological knowhow and new money and luring top talent. BuzzFeed, once scoffed at for content viewed as “click bait,” now has a news staff of 170, including top names like Pulitzer Prize-winner Mark Schoofs, and is the kind of place that ProPublica’s Paul Steiger says he would want to work at if he were young again. Mashable now has a news staff of 70 and enticed former New York Times assistant managing editor Jim Roberts to become its chief content officer. And in January of this year, Ezra Klein left the Washington Post for Vox media, which will become the new home for his explanatory journalism concept. Many of these companies are already successful digital brands – built around an innate understanding of technology – and are using revenues from other parts of the operation to get the news operations off the ground.”

While those names come as a big surprise – old school dons switching sides – the general data does not. And there’s a good reason:

“The new money from philanthropists, venture capitalists and other individuals and non-media businesses, while promising, amounts to only a sliver of the money supporting professional journalism. Traditional advertising from print and television still accounts for more than half of the total revenue supporting news, even though print ad revenues are in rapid decline. While seeing some small gains in new revenue streams like digital subscriptions and conferences, total newspaper advertising revenue in 2013 was down 49% from 2003. (That 2013 number also includes some niche and non-daily publications.) Television ad revenue, while stable for now, faces an uncertain future as video becomes more accessible online. What’s more, most of the new revenue streams driving the momentum are not earned from the news product itself.”

With revenue (and profits) ever more skewed in the favor of digital media, the old ways of reporting the news are absolutely going the way of the dodo. Not that it’s necessarily a terrible thing – we journalists simply have to work out how to navigate the new territory while maintaining our editorial integrity.

To view the whole report, click here.

The Changing Face of News

The Internet has had an incredibly pronounced impact on the way news is reported. Where previously everyone got their news from similar sources – a limited range of newspapers, radio and TV stations – now there is an unlimited proliferation of information.

This has meant that the value proposition of a news outlet has now changed significantly. In the old world, news agencies could run whatever stories they wanted to – whatever they thought would be of enough interest to someone that they would buy a newspaper or listen to their ads.

But that’s not how it works anymore. Sites make their money depending on how many hits each article gets. That’s why every time you get online, you’ll see a mass of hyperbolic headlines and “nearly-unbelievable-but-I-need-to-check” snippets everywhere. These articles are where sites make their money, as they draw the biggest number of clicks.

The Internet has also drastically shortened the life cycle of the news. This is part of the greater ecology shift in the news industry. Prior to the Internet, most people were content to have one major news update a week, usually in the form of the weekend paper. They might get occasional tidbits from the TV or radio.

Nowadays, most people check at least one or two news sites daily – if not every few hours.

This means that news outlets have had to massively increase their output of content. That’s why you will often see a single story covered from multiple angles. It also explains why so many articles can barely be considered news – celebrity gossip, travel and parenting tips, local events, and rhetorical opinion pieces fill a void that would otherwise send readers to other more prolific sites.

Of course, 24-hour TV news was the forerunner for this condition, but it’s really the Internet that has changed the expectations of news readers and the profile of news providers.

A Short History of the News

News reporting has been going on for an incredibly long time.

In fact, it’s up there with some of the oldest professions in the world. The first recorded relaying of the news was when the Egyptian Pharoahs used couriers to visit every part of the empire, carrying new edicts and events for the people to be aware of.

This practice was picked up by the Romans, and later by the Chinese. And in a foreshadowing of the innovative ways they would later become famous for, the Chinese were also the first to move their news distribution to paper – previously they had used silk bolts.

The Egyptians and Romans used stone or metal, so this move to paper made things much more affordable (as well as making the news much easier to update).

Italy was the first state in early Europe to start disseminating news this way. While newssheets were primarily used for cross-border communications, the common people still got their fix – town criers kept everyone updated.

Despite Italy having picked up the idea first, Germany was the first country to publish a newspaper as we would recognise it today.

Relation aller Fürnemmen und gedenckwürdigen Historien (or, ‘Account of all distinguished and commemorable news’) was published in Strasbourg in 1605.

France soon got in on the act, establishing the first ever news agency in 1835 – Agence France-Press set the standard that we still adhere to today. A reporter gathers information, brings it to the agency for processing and then mass dissemination.

Today of course, there are a few more options than the simple newspaper.

Since the 19th Century we’ve added television, radio, online agency and social media reporting. There has never been a time in history when we have more access to news and what’s happening around the world.

And while the quality of the news can at times seem dubious – what with 24 hour reporting, budget cuts that remove editorial staff, and the completely unregulated nature of personal reporting – it’s utterly exciting.

We have so many avenues to explore and so many opportunities to use the news, rather than just absorbing it.