Troubles Continue for News Industry

Project for Excellence in Journalism Offers Little Reassurance in Latest Report

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NEW YORK ( -- The news business may be in bigger trouble than previously thought, according to a new report by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, "The State of the News Media 2008."

Consumers continue to demand more from media companies, from community tools to news on demand. "But more and more it appears that the biggest problem facing traditional media has less to do with where people get information than how to pay for it -- the emerging reality that advertising isn't migrating online with the consumer," the report argues in its executive summary. "The crisis in journalism, in other words, may not strictly be loss of audience. It may, more fundamentally, be the decoupling of news and advertising."

You only have to combine that possibility with a few better-established trends to render the news media totally sleepless. Take, for example, publishers' grudging conversion to the notion that news wants to be free online, that gaining audience by giving away content works better than charging for access.

There's also the focus these days on portals and ad networks, which are drawing ad dollars toward commoditized content. Pay-per-click advertising, too, is dominating attention in uncertain times, at the expense of the branding ads that news publishers would prefer to sell.

The report's other conclusions only compound the notion that the news business is undergoing a thorough but still unpredictable rewrite. They include:

  • A shift toward micro-reporting. "As news consumption becomes continual, more new effort is put into producing incremental updates, as brief as 40-character e-mails sent from reporters directly to consumers without editing."

  • Continued narrowing of the news agenda. "Even as the media world has fragmented into more outlets and options, reporting resources have shrunk."

  • No answers soon. Madison Avenue hasn't figured out the future any better than editors and publishers. "In the short run, this may be helping traditional media hold onto share of advertising revenue. For now, the future seems to point to more confusion and fragmentation before new models emerge. But the losses could begin to accelerate when answers come. The question of whether, and how, advertising and news will remain partners is unresolved."
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