The news industry has gone through some fairly turbulent times lately, including falling ad revenue among a harsh recession, the threat of online, the rise of blogging and the need to adapt to new digital formats. But now they look set to endure another problem, as journalists abandon print to turn their attentions online. In a year long study into the media landscape and the role of journalism in a digital age, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) uncovered some of the key factors contributing to the changing media industry and how the industry is responding. The biggest threat identified is the rise of 'non profit' online newsrooms (read blogs!) that are able to investigate news and local issues at low costs and follow more immediate processes than traditional newsrooms would be able to handle. What the report also found, is that traditional journalists are joining these online news organisations, amidst frustration in the traditional industry.
The newspaper industry in numbers
The report, available to download here, provides some stark figures into the economy of the news industry today. While online ads opened up a new revenue stream, accounting for $1 billion in revenue between 2005-2010, this was against a loss of revenue of $24.6 billion for print advertising. And long term readers of print newspapers are dwindling fast as well. Between 1940-2010, there were 2 million people subscribing to newspapers, despite a rise in households of 83 million. The long and the short of it? People aren't buying newspapers anymore, and the 'blame' can largely be put on digital. And while the news industry has responded by looking at cost-cutting measures and reducing the full time staff, the demand on journalists has increased, as the newsrooms struggle to keep up with the 24-7 nature of news and community blogging. No wonder then, that as the pace has increased and the support has decreased, journalists are looking elsewhere. This represents a huge problem for the news industry, as the one thing they can claim over free online news sites, is access to their columnists, that have likely built up a reputation and expertise in their area. When they lose this, the future looks even more uncertain.
An interesting study contained within the report, looks at the sources of news over time, split down by age. Both the older and younger generation are turning to online as a news source, with all other media experiencing a decline :
While you could attribute the growth in online largely to the developments in digital communication resulting in more actual news sources - a lot more people can start a blog than can start a news programme on TV for example - it extends beyond that and into the make-up of online newsrooms. They are reacting to, and developing out of, an increased need for community news and instant, local news as it happens. While some traditional publishers are starting to look at the use of social within their sites, they're far behind native online news organisations who understand how to use these tools to not only disseminate the news, but also gather it and produce it. While the traditional newsrooms are dealing with a handful of overworked journalists, online newsrooms are creating an entire online community of journalists/bloggers, who can gather news wherever they are in the world and produce it quickly.
The appeal of online
Journalists are heading towards these online newsrooms more and more as, according to the Online Journalism Review, it allows them to get back to the cutting edge of journalism, with new opportunities to grow. What this is also contributing to, is bridging the gap between bloggers and journalists. Make no mistakes that it can still get pretty ugly, with journalists levelling insults at bloggers calling them amateur etc.. and bloggers hitting back by calling on journalists to wake up and recognise the credibility of news blogs, but that the lines are beginning to get blurred. The temptation of online is clearly proving too much for some journalists, who leave established traditional media jobs to start online news startups or existing blogs. Last year for example, the former CNN broadcaster Renay San Miguel left his established 30 years of local broadcasting to join the digital news site Spark 360. Such a move shows that while the future of the traditional industry alone may be in question, the allure of the working environment of online is also tempting to traditional journalists.
In many ways, the writing has been on the wall for the news industry for a long time. It's hardly surprising that so many journalists are abandoning print, when, the news industry has (largely) steadfastly refused to recognise the importance of online, at least up until a couple of years ago when they began playing catchup. This has affected their ability to gather news in a very real way. A study was carried out in 2000, that found only 11% of regional journalists were provided with access to the internet. So the rise of blogging continued apace, as journalists were denied the basic tools required to adapt to the new form of new production. This is alongside a further survey among the British public, that found just 1% found the internet to be their most important source for news. This led to perhaps a misunderstanding among news professionals. It may not have been the most important source of news at the time, but the future and potential growth should have been evident.
The industry responds
In a brilliant article, Jeff Jarvis responds to the Guardian's announcement of their 'digital first' initiative and the rise of community journalism. More specifically he looks at the role of the article, compared to more immediate, smaller forms of news such as Twitter. The article has a good balance of recognising the potential for digital media, without requiring journalists to abandon the tools and means that they have developed. Rather, the future of journalism is in combining digital and traditional media to enable the two to work together. While newspapers in print format may not be around in a few years time, the role of the traditional newsroom will still be important, though it may not look the same. The article by Jarvis is representative of the attitude needed by both the online and traditional newsrooms to contribute to a wholly different future of news production and consumption. Not abandoning traditional formats, such as the article, but repurposing them to fit into the digital age.