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Pew’s ‘State of the News Media’ Charts the Good, the Bad and the Ugly | The Nation

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Greg Mitchell

Greg Mitchell

Media, politics and culture.

Pew’s ‘State of the News Media’ Charts the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Media in Central Park

Media in Central Park (Flickr/Ernst Moeksis)

Amid the scattershot reports and anecdotal fears and cheers, it's always nice when the annual Pew "State of the News Media" study appears, as it did early today. Every year it tells us mainly things we think we know, but at least  they confirm that, and add new details and twists. I've covered this every year going back to 2001, when I became editor of Editor & Publisher.

This year a lot of the early coverage seems to be focusing on fairly new online news outlets, such as Vice and Buzzfeed, adding 5,000 new jobs. Of course, employment at newspapers (down 6.4% or more) and print magazines continues to plunge, even as most of the hard reporting gets done there. 

"New players are boosting reporting power, technological talent and financial resources going into news, creating a level of energy not felt for a long time," said Amy Mitchell, Pew's director of journalism research. "The momentum is real, but it remains to be seen whether these new ventures will flourish and extend to the variety of ways in which the public consumes news and information."

The reports points out: "The year also brought more evidence than ever that news is a part of the explosion of social media and mobile devices, and in a way that could offer opportunity to reach more people with news than ever before. Half of Facebook users get news there even though they did not go there looking for it."

Cable news viewership continues to decline:

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The audience for cable news television is shrinking. The prime-time viewership for the three largest news channels - CNN, Fox News and MSNBC - fell to 3 million last year, the smallest combined audience since 2007. Fox remained the top cable news site, though it lost 6 percent of its viewers. MSNBC took the biggest hit, losing nearly a quarter of its prime-time viewers.

And in an area that has drawn wide attention here at The Nation for many years:

Local television in the U.S. saw massive change in 2013, change that remained under the radar of most Americans.  Big owners of local TV stations got substantially bigger, thanks to a wave of station purchases. While the TV business profited, the impact on consumers is less clear and seems to vary from one market to the next. Still, the rapidly spreading practice of separately owned stations being operated jointly drew criticism from consumer groups and new scrutiny from federal regulators.

Almost 300 full-power local TV stations changed hands in 2013, at a cost more than $8 billion. The 2013 total of 290 is 195 more stations than in 2012 and more than four times the dollar value.1 Many of the deals resulted in stations in the same market being separately owned on paper but operated jointly, a practice that has grown exponentially in just the past two years. Joint service agreements of one kind or another now exist in at least 94 markets, almost half of the 210 local TV markets nationwide, and up from 55 in 2011.

Therefore:

Advocacy groups say station consolidation is depriving communities of the diverse sources of news they need to stay informed. “The original deal was [broadcasters] get free use of the public airwaves, you get the opportunity to make a nice living off of that, but in return you must serve the public interest,” said former FCC commissioner Michael Copps, now with Common Cause. “They’re public airwaves and they’re supposed to be serving community interests and local markets, not one-shop news operations that span many outlets.”

And now?

The FCC, the regulatory body that oversees broadcasting, heard dozens of complaints about TV consolidation in the past year as it continued a long-delayed review of the rules governing station ownership. While no action has yet been taken, broadcasters fear the agency will crack down on joint operating agreements. Early in 2014, the Justice Department warned that the practice could allow station owners to “influence or control” competitors and should be more tightly regulated

For their full report just on those issues, go here.

Greg Mitchell’s latest book, published this week, is When Hollywood Moved Left: The Election Campaign That Changed Politics in Film Forever. 

Read Next: Catherine Crump and Matthew Harwood: The Rise of Networked Devices Will Make Government Surveillance Even Easier.

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