James Piecowye thinking out loud

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Hamsterizing Journalism?

Posted on | June 21, 2011 | No Comments

Are journalists becoming hamsters?


News is changing.

Reporting is changing.

Newsroom and news outlet management is changing.

Yet the fundamentals and models that we are measuring against are not changing.

Are we looking at a problem?

The Project for Excellence in Journalism said in a 2008 report:

In today’s newspapers, stories tend to be gathered faster and under greater pressure by a smaller, less experienced staff of reporters, then are passed more quickly through fewer, less experienced, editing hands on their way to publication.

So what do we do?

We need to rethink what we are doing.

One place to start is by reading the FCC’s report The Information Needs of Communities.

As technology offered consumers new choices, it upended traditional news industry business models, resulting in massive job losses—including roughly 13,400 newspaper newsroom positions in just the past four years. This has created gaps in coverage that even the fast-growing digital world has yet to fill. It is difficult to know what positive changes might be just around the corner, but at this moment the media deficits in many communities are consequential. Newspapers are innovating rapidly and reaching new audiences through digital platforms but most are operating with smaller reporting staffs, and as a result are often offering less in-depth coverage of critical topics such as health, education and local government. Many local TV news broadcasts remain excellent, and, on average, they actually produce more hours of news than a few years ago—but too few are investing in more reporting on critical local issues and some have cut back staff. Beyond that, a minority are exhibiting alarming tendencies to allow advertisers to dictate content. In most communities, commercial radio, cable, and satellite play a small role in reporting local news. Public TV does little local programming; public radio makes an effort to contribute but has limited resources. Most important, too few Internet-native local news operations have so far gained sufficient traction financially to make enough of an impact. 6On close inspection, some aspects of the modern media landscape may seem surprising:

> An abundance of media outlets does not translate into an abundance of reporting. In many communities, there are now more outlets, but less local accountability reporting.

> While digital technology has empowered people in many ways, the concurrent decline in local reporting has, in other cases, shifted power away from citizens to government and other powerful institutions, which can more often set the news agenda.

> Far from being nearly-extinct dinosaurs, the traditional media players—TV stations and newspapers—have emerged as the largest providers of local news online.

> The nonprofit media sector has become far more varied, and important, than ever before. It now includes state public affairs networks, wikis, local news websites, organizations producing investigative reporting, and journalism schools as well as low-power FM stations, traditional public radio and TV, educational shows on satellite TV, and public access channels. Most of the players neither receive, nor seek, government funds.

> Rather than seeing themselves only as competitors, commercial and nonprofit media are now finding it increasingly useful to collaborate.

As the report says in the end it all comes down to accountability when we look at the ideas of convergent content and distribution systems.

We face not a broad crisis of “the news” or “content”—but something much more specific: a shortage of local, professional accountability reporting.

So, what are we doing about this real issue?




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