Print options

March 18, 2013

Study: Media Budget Woes Changing How Americans Get News

by VOA News

A new study says budget woes that have forced newsrooms across the United States to lay off reporters and spend less on their coverage are sending viewers and readers to emerging online forms of learning about the day's news.

The non-partisan Pew Research Center issued its yearly report on the U.S. news industry Monday, saying nearly a third of people it surveyed stopped going to a particular news source because it no longer offered the information it once did.

The report cites the tangible effects of the cutbacks, with fewer reporters to look deeply into stories, and television news programs showing fewer stories that are shorter in length.  It says cable channels, such as CNN, are airing more interviews and less of the day-to-day live news that once played a much larger role in their coverage.

On the local level, young people are fleeing television news broadcasts, with viewership among those under age 30 dropping from 42 percent in 2006 to 28 percent last year.

At the same time, data compiled by the American Journalism Review shows news organizations closing foreign bureaus and slashing the number of reporters covering major government institutions like the State Department and Defense Department.

The Pew study says a bulk of Americans are not aware of the reason for the cutbacks.  The center's survey shows 60 percent have heard little or nothing about the financial pressures media companies are facing.

As fewer Americans read print newspapers or watch television news, there has been a surge in news consumption online.  Pew says the percentage of people who got "yesterday's news" from an online source was up 7 percent last year.  The good news for outlets that have long-dominated the older forms of media, like NBC, CBS, The New York Times and The Washington Post, is that many of their websites rank among the top in online news traffic.

The bad news for those companies is that they are not attracting huge sums of digital advertising revenue.  Instead, newspapers are increasingly turning to forcing consumers to pay for access to their websites.  Monday's report says 450 of the 1,380 daily newspapers in the United States have announced plans to, or have already, instituted a so-called pay wall.

Two of the three largest newspapers in the country - The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal - have pay walls.  The New York Times implemented its system in 2011, and now says it makes more money from subscription fees than it does through charging for ads.

Another emerging trend is in the way people first hear about a news story.  Pew says 15 percent of U.S. adults learn about it from someone on a social networking site, and that for young people, the number rises to nearly one-in-four.

The reach of social media and other forms of engagement outside of traditional media outlets has given companies and individuals the ability to get their message directly to the public, when before they would have had to rely on news coverage.  As Pew notes in the study, that means the information is not presented with the filter of independent vetting, context or comparison with other sources.

Part of the study focusing on coverage of the 2012 U.S. elections showed that even when journalists do cover a story, that filtering role has been diminished.  It says about a quarter of the statements in the media about the character or record of President Barack Obama or his challenger, Mitt Romney, came from journalists.  More than half of the statements came instead from the candidates themselves, their campaigns or their political allies, and were used to attack the opposing candidate.

Pew says that is a reversal from the race in 2000, when half of the statements about candidates came from journalists.