What Everyone Is Talking About Today

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NEW YORK ( -- The Project for Excellence in Journalism has published its third annual report on American journalism, “The State of the News Media Report 2006.” Watercooler highly recommends reading it, as it’s the one place to get a comprehensive look at which companies are investing in resources to continue doing journalism and which ones have been squeezed to the point of having to cut staff and output.

Why should advertisers care? Well, it also lays out audience trends, who’s snagging the eyeballs and who’s losing them.

You can find it here: The report looks at all outlets, broken into nine sectors: newspapers, magazines, network TV, cable TV, local TV, the Internet, radio, ethnic media and alternative media. With so much emphasis on engagement, its worth looking at what content as crucial as news is doing to meet the needs of its audience and which outlets are hitting with which kind of stories. News, the report seems to underscore, has become commoditized. The Web has given us more outlets for getting news, but it seems the same few stories using the same few sources are presented day after day. But traditional outlets, such as newspapers and TV, started to take some steps toward the Web this year in ways that seem likely to grow into a new, better way of doing news online.

Audience patterns are examined, and the report notes that advertisers are pushing for more accurate measurement systems to allow them to compare one media’s audience with another’s. Here’s how the report puts it:

“To begin, different media measure differently. (Online users are counted monthly. Television viewers are measured almost minute by minute. Newspapers are measured by copies sold, not readers.) At the same time, more news organizations are offering their content on multiple platforms, making a solid audience figure even harder to determine. Adding to the pressure, advertisers want more accurate counts as they decide how to spend their money. In an age when the Internet offers exact and detailed information about not only how many people are accessing a site but also for how long and whether they are exploring a particular story or advertising, the old-fashioned diaries still used to track radio and TV audiences strike many as antiquated.”

It also addresses one of Watercooler’s obsessions: Who is going to pay for news gathering online? One of the reports findings is spelled out thusly: “The new challengers to the old media, the aggregators, are also playing with limited time. When it comes to news, what companies like Google and Yahoo are aggregating and selling is the work of others -- the very same old media they are taking revenue away from. The more they succeed, the faster they erode the product they are selling, unless the economic model is radically changed. Already there are rumblings. One thing to watch for in 2006 is whether old-media content producers demand that Google News begin to pay them for content. Another option for the aggregators is to begin to produce their own news, and already we are seeing baby steps; in 2005, Yahoo announced it would hire some journalists, but the effort is still minimal. Can the new rivals become more than technology companies? And if they do, will they have more than rhetorical allegiance to the values of public-interest journalism?”

We’re just scratching the surface of this comprehensive report, which is why we urge you to go read it for yourselves. The sections on network TV nightly news vs. morning shows is particularly good, as is the section on how podcasting and satellite is changing radio. Another topical discussion, in light of the Knight Ridder sale, is an examination of cutbacks in newspaper newsrooms and how that affects the quality of the news that gets delivered. With so much gutting going on, the report worries that there will be too few watchdogs left to hold public institutions up to scrutiny. We also like the “Day in the Life of Media” section, which shows how and where news stories live throughout one day. Under the section looking at magazines, it even attempts to explain the growth of celebrity tabloids.

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