The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism recently published the eighth edition of its annual “State of the News Media” report. For those of us who’ve spent a large chunk of our lives working in or with the news media, or observing it as alpha news consumers, the latest report is enough to prompt more than a few “wows” and whistles of amazement. Today’s roiling, churning seascape of media content, distribution channels, user habits and economics is as radically different compared to past eras as MP3 music files are to 8-track tapes.
I’d dare to say that even the definition of “news” is light years different now than it was in the bygone era dominated by a few massive news organizations and a tiny assortment of delivery channels. Ask someone under age 25 today if a YouTube video counts as “news” and I’ll bet the answer is often, “Sure does,” regardless of who posted the video.
But back to the startling findings of the latest Pew Research Center report, which is instructive for companies, organizations and individuals whose reputations and brands are impacted by the ebb and flow of news in all its various forms. Here are a few highlights:
• The web is absolutely hammering competing news delivery channels. Pew’s survey found that 41 percent of Americans say the web is now where they get all or most of their national and international news. That number jumped 17 percentage points in a single year from 2009 to 2010. Now, that’s a major trend.
• Cable news is becoming an old-line, legacy media source, and its audience is plummeting. All of the big cable news networks were hit with prime time audience drop-offs from 2009 to 2010, ranging from 5 percent at MSNBC to a 37 percent freefall at CNN.
• The more gradual but seemingly relentless downhill march of the print newspaper and network TV news audiences continues at the hands of the mighty Internet. The downward trend in network TV news viewership has been underway for some 30 years.
• Radio continues to have a stable audience, with 93 percent of Americans being regular listeners. But radio news is seeing significant audience falloff. Pew Research found that 16 percent of Americans get most of their national and international news from radio, down from 22 percent in 2009. NPR, by contrast, is surging. NPR’s audience grew 3 percent in 2010 and is up 58 percent since 2000. One reason: commercial, all-news programming is rapidly disappearing from many markets.
• Newspaper print ad revenue was down about 6.3 percent last year, but a whopping 48 percent over the past four years. All other news media channels enjoyed gains in 2010, including 13.9 percent for online news sources and 17 percent for local TV outlets.
• Asked the value of their local newspaper, Pew survey respondents were split. Just under a third said the loss of the local newspaper would have a major impact on their ability to keep up with local information. Another 30 percent said it would have a minor impact. And 39 percent said the loss of the newspaper would have no impact. Clearly, newspaper marketers have some work to do to convince the general population that their product is indispensible.
• Almost half — 47 percent — of American adults now get at least some of their local news from a mobile device such as a smart phone or tablet computer. Goodbye, ink-stained finger tips.
• Mobile ad spending still amounts to just 3 percent of total online ad spending ($743 million), but it increased an impressive 79 percent in 2010. Look for the mobile media revolution to continue apace, with more consumers turning to their “phone” for news, and more ad dollars following them there.
• Consumers have grown accustomed to free news and many feel entitled to it. A few dozen newspapers nationwide have attempted to monetize their news content by moving some of it behind an online pay wall. Result: Only about 1 percent of users opt to pay, leading some newspaper websites to abandon the effort. The New York Times launched its second attempt at a paywall a couple of months ago. Early results look promising but it’s too soon to tell whether this latest effort will work better than the last one.
Keep those seats in the upright and locked position and those seatbelts fastened securely; the world of news and information is in for more bumpy weather. And those of us who labor in and around it must work harder than ever to keep up. Better fire up my trusty iPad and see what’s new out there.