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Television news, newspapers in US take a beating

Television news loses its audience in the US; newspapers lose even more.


March 12, 2007: In the United States, for the first time in many years, every sector of television news lost audience in 2006.

Newspapers in the US, despite gaining larger readership than ever for their content via online platforms, fared worse than television financially.

The shifting economic fundamentals are prompting mainstream news organisations to try to build audience around “franchise” areas of coverage, specialties and even crusades, according to a new report on the state of journalism in America, The State of the American News Media 2007, prepared by the Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ).

The Project for Excellence in Journalism is a non-partisan, non-political research group and a part of the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C.

The new phenomenon is exemplified by cable news, which had been growing for a decade, but is now suffering audience declines.

The “argument culture” of the cable is giving way to something new: the “answer culture,” a growing pattern that has news outlets, programmes and journalists offering solutions, certainty and the impression of putting all the information needed in clear order for the people.

These are some of the conclusions from The State of the American News Media 2007, a 700-page comprehensive look at the state of US journalism by the Project for Excellence in Journalism. This is the fourth annual report.

“Trends that we have been tracking now for four years are reaching a pivot point,” PEJ director Tom Rosenstiel said. “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 recognise. 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.”

That does not mean that journalism is dying. There is even more reason than a few years ago to believe, the report says, that the old newsrooms of the US are most likely to be the successful newsrooms of the future.

However, the report cautions that the consequences of the overall trend toward franchise branding remain unclear. “Hyper-localism, a favorite term on Wall Street, can be market speak for simple cost-cutting. Branding can be a mask for bias. Pursued mindlessly, the franchise approach could also spell the death of a big city metro paper. The character of the next era, far from inevitable, will likely depend heavily on the quality of leadership in the newsroom and boardroom,” the report concludes.

The 2007 report includes a special content analysis of digital journalism, which systematically examines the nature and character of over three dozen websites offering news and information in a variety of styles.

Among other findings, the online analysis concludes that, while journalists are becoming more serious about the Web, no clear models of how to do journalism online exist yet, and some qualities are still only marginally explored. Features such as immediacy and customisability, for example, have been developed much more than others, like depth or the use of multimedia.

Like in the case of past annual reports, the 2007 study gives detailed chapters on nine different sectors of the press – newspapers, magazines, network television, cable news, local TV, the internet (including blogs), radio, the ethnic press and alternative media.

For each sector, the report collects all available information on six different areas: audience, economics, ownership, newsroom investment, and public attitudes.






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