State of the News Media: Something to chew on

“I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.  This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.”

 — Thomas Jefferson


The latest Pew report on the State of the News Media has been posted.

It is not just depressing. It is grave-digging dreary and wrist-slitting bleak.

For newspapers the report cites declining circulation, declining ad revenue, shrinking news hole and shrinking newsrooms. About 15,000 full-time reporting and editing jobs disappeared in the past three years, falling from 55,000 to 40,000 or about 27 percent.

The news is much the same for other media, including the much touted online. Of the newspapers' online efforts Pew reports, “After 15 years of transition, about 90% of newspaper company revenues still come from the print business.”

But I sometimes think this annual report should be renamed the State of America’s Ability to Self-Govern, because the underlying message is that we are getting by on less and less current information.

The 2010 report introduces an apropos term for our news consumption: grazing.

This is described in the part of the report about online news. “People graze across multiple websites for their news,” Pew reports.

It goes to say that Web sites “tied to legacy news outlets like newspapers or cable stations now attract the bulk of the news traffic, but there are signs that this dominance could change. Younger generations especially begin their news consumption through search. There are signs that more and more people are ending it there as well, deciding that all they need is the headline, byline and first sentence of text. In short, news consumers young and old get a good deal of news without ever actually clicking on the story.  If this cursory read is deemed valuable — or valuable enough — it could send content producers back to the drawing board for both their content and financial strategies.”

This coupled with Pew studies that show a continual decline in American knowledge of current events is disturbing.

Grazing is right, but people aren’t getting enough substance to form a cud to chew on.