This chart and table are taken from the Pew Research Center’s latest report explaining the shifting role of news organizations from reporters to watchdogs. We’ve been waiting for a report like this because it underscores our belief that organizations – particularly government organizations – need to use the Internet to communicate what they do directly with the public.
What we see here: people are increasingly likely to look to the Internet for news, but they’re less likely to trust news organizations for factual reporting. Instead, they’ll look directly to institutions and powerful individuals for reporting on their activities and they’ll look to news media for analysis and opinions on the significance of what’s happening.
The Economist Group gives us another graph that illuminates some of the economic reasons behind Pew’s report:
What this chart shows is that the Internet has created essentially infinite advertising inventory, which – following basic rules of supply and demand – has gutted the cost of running ads. This has eliminated newspapers’ ability to charge high (usually duopoly) rates for local advertising and, therefore, the revenue needed to pay for reporting. When big stories break, media outlets now scramble to break stories as quickly as possible in hopes of attracting site traffic. Recent events like Hurricane Sandy and the Boston Marathon bombing have demonstrated that this is a bad thing as it has led to false reporting.
This is bad news for newspapers, but it’s not necessarily bad for readers because the Internet has simultaneously enabled institutions to tell their own stories (we document this phenomenon on our blog with our going direct tag). After all, why follow a newspaper for the latest news on the Boston Marathon bombing when you can just follow the Boston Police Department?
This leaves newspapers to provide analysis of the news as reported by the people who make it. Cable news channels realized long ago that it was much more profitable to hire charismatic and opinionated personalities than reporters. I won’t go into the pluses and minuses of this new reality, but I’m optimistic that there will always be consumer demand for thoughtful and fair analysis despite the inanities that we see on many cable news channels.
I’m also optimistic that this gap in reporting will be filled by more and better reporting directly from institutions. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is the round-the-clock reporting we’re getting from both humans and robots exploring space.
Of course, space is an outlier (is that a pun?), so it’s important to point out that we now get 1st hand accounts from law enforcement agencies, research institutes, and ambassadors every day now. We get more of these accounts every day, and they’re only getting better.
If you’re intereseted in reporting on interesting work, join the communications team of an organization doing interesting things. You’ll be able to tell stories that no news organization ever could before. As I write this, there are 354 communications jobs listed on USAJOBS.gov.