According to a new study by Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ), most of what the public learns still comes from traditional media outlets, especially newspapers. However, the amount of original reporting is on the decline.
The study attempted to look at who reports the news most people consume in their communities; the role of new media, blogs and specialty sites; and how a modern news “ecosystem” in a large American city works. The findings show most people still turn to traditional media to get their news, despite the fact there are more sources of information than ever before.
Using Baltimore, Md, as a test ground for one week, researchers examined all outlets that produced local content and examined six major narratives during that time frame. The study was conducted July 19 to 25, 2009 and the PEJ says this study is an attempt at trying to understand who is producing news and identify the character of what is produced.
According to the PEJ, “Much of the ‘news’ people receive contains no original reporting,” and “8 out of ten stories studied simply repeated or repackaged previously published information.” The report goes on to say 95 percent of reports that did contain new information were from traditional media, mostly newspapers.
Scarcity of content
The PEJ says their analysis shows local papers are offering less content than they once did. According to their report:
For all of 2009, for instance, the [Baltimore] Sun produced 32 percent fewer stories on any subject than it did in 1999, and 73 percent fewer stories than in 1991, when the company still published an evening and morning paper with competing newsrooms.
Furthermore, the study indicates new media is not filling in the content void left by mainstream press, as blogs, Twitter and local news sites typically act more as an alert system or a way to disseminate stories from other websites.
Researchers concluded the Web is clearly the first place of publication now, as new technology has made it easier to publish quickly. With the rise of new technology, however, news is often posted with little enterprise reporting added. In fact, researchers noted they often saw official press releases posted word-for-word without that fact being disclosed.
They also said citing and crediting sources is an oft-skipped step, as they found many examples of websites reprinting sections of others’ work without credit.
Growth of media outlets
In Baltimore, the number of news outlets has expanded a great deal, as researchers identified 53 news outlets that regularly produce some kind of local content. These outlets range from blogs, to talk radio shows to sites created by former journalists. They also include “multi-platform operations that also make robust use of Twitter as a way means of dissemination.”
However, researchers say 83 percent of stories were repetitive and conveyed no new information, and the 17 percent that did were traditional media outlets. The Baltimore Sun is credited with producing 48 percent of these stories; a specialty paper focusing on business and law produced 13 percent; local TV stations and their websites accounted for 28 percent of enterprise reporting; radio stations produced 7 percent; and new media outlets accounted for 4 percent.
Researchers also note 31 percent of legacy media (newspapers, TV and radio) produced content on new platforms and nearly half of newspaper stories were online rather than in print.
In television, the PEJ says 36 percent of TV news stories were “anchor reads” and “tell stories” which is often material from wire services.
In radio, researchers say there was very little original reporting, with almost 50 percent of segments involving an anchor reading stories and 38 percent of segments including a host interviewing a guest or caller.
The PEJ says there were two cases of new media breaking information in Baltimore; one was a police Twitter feed and the other was a local blog that picked up a story the mainstream press nearly missed completely. A newspaper eventually found the blog and reported the story.
As more and more media outlets scale back on original reporting, researchers say reproducing others’ content has become a big part of the news media ecosystem:
Government, at least in this study, initiates most of the news. In the detailed examination of six major storylines, 63% of the stories were initiated by government officials, led first of all by the police. Another 14% came from the press. Interest group figures made up most of the rest.
The PEJ says new media, local bloggers and specialty outlets are “almost certain” to grow in number and expand capacity.
Topics vary by media outlet
The PEJ says the news agendas of media outlets were “strikingly different,” and “the world one encounters differs dramatically depending on where one seeks his or her information.”
According to their study, 23 percent of TV stories were about crime (double the amount of any other subject). With newspapers, crime reporting was nearly matched by reports on government, followed by business and education. In radio and new media, however, government was the No. 1 topic.
The study can be found online here.