The 2009 State of the Media Report by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) has just been released. For the media savvy, the Report is the ultimate consolidated reference on the subject. It is exhaustive -- the Executive Summary alone runs 25 pages -- but such detailed comprehensiveness is what makes the report a vade mecum for those who track the industry.
As has been the case for the past few years, PEJ's 2009 findings are disheartening, especially as exemplified by the parlous state of the newspaper industry where revenues and circulation continue to decline precipitously in the face of its inability -- so far -- to adequately monetize its increasing online readership and that of the countless number of other websites and social media which link to newspapers. (90% of all news reports are originated by newspapers).
That financial shortfall -- at least partly recession-driven -- affects other newsmedia as well. Network and local television news is losing both revenue and viewers, with the resulting increase in fluff over substance. Cable television, conversely, is holding its own, particularly at the journalistically-challenged Fox News Channel where original news reporting has been subordinated to a 24/7 mix of commentary and punditry. One cannot argue with their stunning success, but it doesn't get us any more of the primary newsgathering, skilled editing and cogent analysis that is the hallmark of the legacy media and the lifeblood of an informed electorate.
What it gets us is a citizenry plugged-in full-time, 70% of whom feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information being thrown at them every day. But quantity is not quality, and 80% of the million-plus blogs and social media sites out there are linked to conventional newsgathering sources. If those sources dry up through lack of financial sustenance, the entire construct implodes.
To some, this dramatic scenario is simply a clash of titans, with gigantic media conglomorates vying for control of information and the gateways through which it flows, while paying only lip service to the 1st Amendment and the cherished ideal of a free press.
Clearly, there is no quick and easy fix to the current dilemma, and pessimism will continue to dog the issue in the near term. But, in this observer's perhaps quixotic view, the Republic will not fall, democracy will survive and journalism will remain a viable business as well as a vital profession. Yankee ingenuity and resourcefullness, coupled with an economic recovery, will eventually pull the press out of the fiscal mire. We can only hope that next year's PEJ report will find us on that road, but -- even so -- our reading/viewing habits will have been changed forever.
The Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) provides a half-dozen key excerpts from the Report at: http://www.cjr.org/.
For the full PEJ report, go to: http://www.stateofthemedia.org/2010/index.php