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This Week in PubHub: The State of the News Media

August 05, 2010

(Kyoko Uchida manages PubHub, the Foundation Center's online catalog of foundation-sponsored publications. In her last post, she looked at a group of reports detailing international views of the United States' global role.)

It's been a couple of years since the death of the newspaper industry was proclaimed. But even if newspapers are still part of the media landscape in most metropolitan areas, declining circulation and ad revenue numbers suggest that the print newspaper is headed the way of the dodo. This week, PubHub is featuring a group of reports that addresses the question: Whither the state of news?

The State of the News Media 2010, the Project for Excellence in Journalism's annual survey of the journalism landscape, includes special features on consumer attitudes, online news, and community news sites. According to the report, six in ten Americans get their daily news online, while five of the top twenty news sites are produced by major metropolitan dailies (tied with online-only operations). The survey also found that the outlook for increasing revenues through pay walls and/or online display advertising isn't all that promising, given online consumers' reluctance to pay for content or click on ads, and that the average visitor spends just over three minutes (per session) on a typical news site.

Where do most people turn for news and what do they think of news sources in general? According to Public Evaluations of the News Media: 1985-2009, a new report from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, television remains the dominant source of national and international news, followed by the Internet and newspapers (in that order). The same 2009 survey also found that a whopping 63 percent of respondents said news stories were often inaccurate, up from 53 percent in 2007 and 34 percent in 1985. Charges of media bias and lack of fairness and independence were also up across political affiliations.

The Pew report notes that partisan support for the "watchdog" role of the press with respect to elected officials varies depending on who's in the White House. And what of investigative journalism itself? What is its future in an ever-more fragmented media landscape? In Footprint of Financial Crisis in the Media, the Open Society Institute examined the impact of the economic crisis on independent media, investigative reporting, and public debate in former Soviet bloc countries and concludes that as "cash-strapped media increasingly opt for stories with mass appeal, accountability journalism suffers." The solution? There may not be one, but at a minimum stakeholders need to increase their support for investigative reporting to ensure that government activities remain transparent.

U.S. news organizations are not immune to such pressures. "[W]hat should be done to shape this new landscape, to help assure that the essential elements of independent, original, and credible news reporting are preserved?" That's the question asked by longtime Washington Post editor Leonard Downie, Jr. and Michael Schudson of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in The Reconstruction of American Journalism. Among other things, Downie and Schudson suggest that independent news reporting is a "public good whose diminution requires urgent attention" and "an essential component of public information" that deserves philanthropic and government support.

What do you think? Is the news becoming more and more fragmented into niche outlets for the like-minded? Can -- and should -- independent journalism be saved? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. And don't forget to check out PubHub, where you can browse the more than a hundred and twenty reports related to journalism and media.

-- Kyoko Uchida

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