2010 State of the News Media: lecture

Melissa WilsonJournalists are no longer managing the diet of news consumers, Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, said during Samara’s 2010 State of the News Media lecture. But they have taken on an important new role, Melissa Wilson writes.

Journalists are no longer managing the diet of news consumers, said Tom Rosenstiel last week. The director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism (and also co-author of the j-school required reading, The Elements of Journalism) spent the evening discussing the findings of the 2010 State of the News Media Report, hosted by Samara and Massey College. Watch the webcast here.

Tom RosensteilReaders are now, according to Rosenstiel, “hunting story-by-story rather than having a relationship with a news organization.” This then feeds into the idea of journalism as an argument, rather than a one-ended conversation, something social media enthusiasts have been saying for years.

“You get a version of the story that has it this way, and a version that has it that way, and it increasingly seems like a debate,” said Rosenstiel, “which is quite different from the old days when it was hours before the story came out and you had a kind of full version because the journalist mediated the different accounts in one place.”

The State of the News Media report is an annual detailed manifesto chockfull of data and survey responses. Here are some numbers to mull over:

•    92 percent of people in the U.S. get their news from more than one platform, with 46 percent getting their news from four to six platforms.

•    79 percent of those surveyed said they never or hardly ever click  online ads

•    35 percent said they have a favourite site, and of those, only 15 percent said they would continue visiting if charged.

•    Of the top 200 news/information websites, 80 percent are legacy media.

Like it or not, technology is changing faster than journalists can keep up, so the solution, according to Rosenstiel, is to recognize how citizens are interacting with this new technology and go from there.

He spoke of “accidental news acquisition,” an old-school notion that refers to the idea that news consumers just stumble upon information. This was particularly the case during the first half of the 20th century, although this idea began to erode with the advent of television. “Suddenly, we were all watching the same news and all seeing the same stories,” said Rosestiel. There’s little choice with the evening news. But that’s changing with the Internet age, and Rosestiel says we’re beginning to move back to accidental news acquisition.

“The worry is that now people are only going to read about things that they are interested in,” said Rosenstiel. “But that’s not the case…people actually spend twice as long per visit on general interest sites than they do on special interest sites.”

So what does the future have in store for journalism? Rosenstiel said it all comes down to the role of the media, and summarized eight key functions of 21st century media:

Forum Leader
Sense Making
Smart Aggregation
Role Model

“Like sports stars, journalists are now role models for citizens,” Rosenstiel said. “It’s a frightening thought.”

Watch the webcast here.