Print media, TV news hit hard last year, says Pew study

Digital news audience surges, but news media not cashing in

The news industry is "more undermanned and unprepared to uncover stories, dig deep into emerging ones or to question information put into its hands," says Pew Research in its "State of the News Media 2013," published today (March 18). In the print media, employment is down 30% since its 2000 peak and the total number of employees has fallen below 40,000 for the first time since 1978, says Pew. Magazine revenue dropped by 10.4% and newspaper advertising declined 5.9% last year. Local TV news audiences were down in all time slots and in all networks as overall audiences fell 6.5%, according to the publication Adweek. Local TV watching among adults under 30 fell from 42% in 2006 to 28% in 2012. Revenue was up in local TV news, but only because of the election.

Last year, 31% of adults owned a tablet, four times the level of spring 2011, says Adweek, interpreting the Pew data. Digital advertising grew 17% last year, according to eMarketer, but news media are having trouble making hay of that. In the newspaper industry, digital ad revenue grew only 3% last year, and that wasn't nearly enough to offset overall ad revenue declines. Advertisers are increasingly going for Google, Facebook and other networks.

Says Pew, "Signs of the shrinking reporting power are documented throughout this year's report....In local TV... sports, weather, and traffic now account for on average 40% of the content produced in the newscasts studied while story lengths shrink." On CNN, the cable channel designed to bring deep reporting, such story packages were cut in half from 2007 to 2012.

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Fewer reporters, fewer long stories, shorter attention spans among "readers" who are scrolling and scanning and texting trivia while on the move, fewer short stories too, not-so-young young people getting their public information from Bill Maher or John Stewart or right-wing talk radio. Metropolitan dailies going to three days a week. Los Angeles Times on the block with rumors of -- pick your poison -- Eli Broad or Doug Manchester waiting to buy.

This isn't sad, it's tragic, and it will carry huge negative consequences for our allegedly democratic society.

monaghan: Your analysis is right on the money. Pew doesn't say that in so many words, but it is clearly the underlying theme. Best, Don Bauder

This sort of thing is to be expected. But where will the public look for information about the world when the newspapers and magazines are gone? The sad part is that the public doesn't want information now; if it did, the papers would have readers (in one way or another, print or electronic) and the magazines would thrive. But the magazines are losing readership and folding. Those that once did a good job of covering some topics that were too specialized for the daily papers are also going "lite." Sunset magazine is a caricature of the excellent journalistic product it once was. Many of them don't even have a Letters section any more. (All those notes that pan their recent articles just hurt, not help circulation.)

For a government that is run by elites (the sort that know better what is good for us than we do) this is a perfect environment. "Allegedly democratic" puts it well.

Visduh: You raise a point I have been pondering and lamenting for some time. The public doesn't want deep reporting. And this is at a time when public and private corruption are at an historical peak. Possibly people just don't want to hear how greed has taken over society. But this is one thing I have pondered: at some point, the sea of money that world central banks have created will cause either inflation or huge financial asset bubbles; there will be another 2008, or worse. At that point, the public may get aroused. The Occupy movement will be reignited and police brutality won't be able to stop it this time. The media that would have provided explanations behind the ubiquitous corruption will have long since gone silent. It could get ugly. Best, Don Bauder

And that's not all, the alt-weeklies are having hard times too. "The long, slow decline of alt-weeklies" is an opinion story in Reuters (3/15/13):

Ponzi: That Reuters story is very said. The alt-weekles serve an essential purpose. Best, Don Bauder

Eli Broad and Austin Beutner plan on bidding on the LA Times. There's a rumor they would convert it into a "non-profit" corporation. Warren Buffet is still looking at buying more papers too. And those small neighborhood weeklies are still popular (usually in more dense and affluent neighborhoods). The evolution of print continues, let hope it ends up in responsible hands.

Ponzi: Yes, I posted a blog item on Broad and Beutner (plus others) a couple of weeks ago. Buffett is still looking for papers, but they are a very small piece of his total portfolio. He looks for papers that successfully get subscribers to buy online versions of the paper. Best, Don Bauder

My theory is if daily newspapers can just hang on, they will have a renaissance. Alt-weeklies like the inventive SD Reader too. At some point, once-intelligent people are going to tire of looking at porn on their wristwatches and they will need to know about Big-Daddy chicanery downtown or in Sac or D.C. For example, as in far-away Cyprus this week, they will want to learn every detail about what happened to their bank savings that were confiscated by order of the State. Even idiots can only stay "entertained" for so long.

monaghan: That is a very intriguing thesis -- something we should all hope for. There are so many wide-open scams that the public just doesn't have the attention span to digest. Some examples: 1. How Wall Street law firms control the SEC through the revolving door phenomenon; 2. How Potemkin Village corporations like Enron can exist for so long without getting caught; 3. How so many large corporations like General Electric can get away without paying any taxes; 4. How wealthy and not-so-wealthy individuals, as well as some of the largest corporations, use offshore tax havens to cheat the United States; 5. How corporate accounting practices shelter absolute scams perpetrated by corporations and wealthy individuals; 6. How the big banks, through use of bewilderingly complex derivatives, almost pushed us into the abyss, but have dodged stiff regulation and might do it again. These are just a few examples. Uncovering these things requires WORDS; you can't unravel these convoluted tales with pictures or simple sound bites on the web. Good thinking, monaghan. Best, Don Bauder

Interesting column Don.... seems with the Facebook generation in full force... the 'Me Generation' has been reborn for many, and indoctrinated anew into the younger ones.

Margot: Main Street is hurting, but is still not uncomfortable enough to want to know what is going on. So consumption remains an end in itself. Best, Don Bauder

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