Journalism cutbacks are driving audiences away: Pew State of Media report

As media outlets get more desperate for advertising dollars, news stories shrink and consumers are tuning away, a new study released Monday found.

As media outlets get more desperate for advertising dollars, news stories shrink and consumers are tuning away, a new study released Monday found.

About 61 per cent of Americans remain unaware of the financial struggles that have led to cutbacks in newsroom, the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism reported. But that doesn’t mean they’re not taking notice. Nearly a third are turning away from news outlets when it no longer provides the news consumers are used to getting, the journalism think tank reported.

“With reporting resources cut to the bone and fewer specialized beats, journalists’ level of expertise in any one area and the ability to go deep into a story are compromised,” the report stated.  “This adds up to a news industry that is more undermanned and unprepared to uncover stories, dig deep into emerging ones or to question information put into its hands.”

Audiences were down for every key television time slot in 2012 and 40 per cent of American newscasts are made up of sports, weather and traffic while story lengths shrink. Meanwhile, estimates for American newsroom cutbacks in 2012 put industry employment down 30 per cent since its peak in 2000 and below 40,000 employees for the first time since 1978.

“There are more signs than ever that the reduced reporting power in the news industry is having an effect and may weaken both the industry’s capacity to produce in-depth journalism and its credibility with the public at the same time that others are gaining more voice,” says Amy Mitchell, acting director of the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Here are some of the highlights from the report:

The audiences are paying attention

Nearly a third of U.S. adults, 31 per cent, have stopped turning to a news outlet because it no longer provided them with the news they were accustomed to getting. Men have left at somewhat higher rates than women, as have the more highly educated and higher-income earners, who are normally the traditional base of heavier news consumers. Only 39 per cent have heard a lot or have some awareness of the financial difficulties, but those with greater awareness are also more likely to be the ones who have abandoned a news outlet.

The news industry continues to lose out on the bulk of new digital advertising.

While mobile display advertising is growing rapidly, 72 per cent of that market goes to just six companies—including Facebook, which didn’t even create its first mobile ad product until mid-2012. While local digital advertising is growing, improved geo-targeting is allowing many national advertisers to turn to Google, Facebook and other large networks to buy ads when earlier they might have gone to local media. “Once again, in key revenue areas, it appears the news industry may have been outflanked by technology giants,” the report says.

More paywalls

“After years of an almost theological debate about whether digital content should be free, the newspaper industry may have reached a tipping point in 2012,” the report states. 450 of the nation’s 1,380 dailies have started or announced plans for some kind of paid content subscription or pay wall plan, in many cases opting for the metered model that allows a certain number of free visits before requiring users to pay. With digital ad revenue growing at three per cent a year in the newspaper industry, digital subscriptions are seen as an increasingly vital component of any new business model for journalism—though, in most cases, they fall far short of actually replacing the revenue lost in advertising.

Television losing its viewers

While local TV remains a top news source for Americans, the percentage is dropping and dropping sharply among younger generations.  Regular local TV viewership among adults under 30 fell from 42 per cent in 2006 to just 28 per cent in 2012. While many stations ramped up their digital news offerings in the past year, they are late to the digital game. Advertising revenues were up for the year, but that was largely due to a windfall of $2.9 billion in political advertising revenue, something that cannot be replicated in non-election years.

Social media leads to deeper news consumption

Nearly 15 per cent of U.S. adults get most of their news from friends and family through social media and 77 per cent follow links to full news stories

*All images courtesy of The State of Media 2013 infographic