BOB GARFIELD: This is On the Media. I’m Bob Garfield.
This week, the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism released its annual “State of the News Media” report detailing the health or, in this case, the frailty of mainstream US media, online and off. The report contained a litany of grim statistics about the consumption and economics of news that makes some of us think dark thoughts. But Associate Director Mark Jurkowitz says the situation isn't as bleak as it could be.
MARK JURKOWITZ: No, there’s no need to put your head in the oven at this point. The actual raw data from 2012 is not all that negative. In terms of digital, local television, cable news, revenues were up slightly or more. We’ve actually seen the newspaper industry fundamentally stabilize its circulation. So the raw numbers don't tell you that this is an industry in collapse.
BOB GARFIELD: You see the glass as half-full, I see shards in a puddle on the floor.
Audience for news, especially TV news, is down across the board. Newsroom cutbacks continue. Employment in the industry is down 30% since 2012; 40% of what you see in broadcast is sports, weather and traffic, not community news. On cable news, there's not much news. There's a lot of talk about the news, but the live reporting has fallen, yet again. What part of this report should not make me panic?
MARK JURKOWITZ: Well, Bob, I’ll give you a lot of credit for isolating all the trouble spots. You did a [LAUGHS] – you did an excellent job of that, and I wouldn’t gloss over any of them. If we’re looking for optimism, let's say in the newspaper industry, we know what the problem has been for newspapers, and I think it may become a problem for local television too, and that is the failure for digital advertising revenues to grow. Last year for newspapers it was an anemic 3%.
So what has the newspaper industry done in the past year that's notable? Well, it seems like the theological debate over whether content should be free or not has about come to an end. We now count about 450 American dailies that have now erected some kind of digital paid subscription plan. And that holds out some real hope. At the New York Times right now, they are actually making more on circulation revenue than they are in advertising revenue. That may be part of a way forward for news organizations, if they can make this digital paid content experiment work. There's a ray of optimism right there for you.
BOB GARFIELD: Thank you for the ray. And if you want more rays-
- check out a piece by Matt Yglesias in Slate in which he says that despite the financial extremis in which most news organizations find themselves, this is just the absolute Golden Age for news content consumers.
MARK JURKOWITZ: It's hard to argue that consumers don't have more choices now than they had before, but we think the bottom line is that quality journalism costs money and if there isn't a viable business plan going for commercial journalism, then sooner or later there are going to be significant impacts that all but the most of perhaps well-heeled or discerning and energetic news consumers are gonna feel.
BOB GARFIELD: You referred to the low advertising rates on the digital side, compared to the extremely lucrative advertising rates that made media barons back in the good old days. Is there any hope for an increase in the so-called CPMs, the cost per thousands, that advertisers pay, or online news organizations going to be forever victimized by the law of supply and demand?
MARK JURKOWITZ: The whole decoupling of news from advertising may be what we’re gonna be seeing, to a large extent, going forward in the digital world, which means diversifying revenue sources. So what are the other options? Aside from building up digital advertising revenues to the extent that you can, and that's probably gonna mean things like much more video advertising and much more smart-targeted display advertising, but there are a couple other businesses that are happening in digital, one of them that we already have talked about, which is paid subscription model. And that's going to be an increasingly important part of the digital business model.
BOB GARFIELD: There was one finding in the Pew Study I thought was just positively jaw-dropping [LAUGHS], and that is that 60% of Americans say that they've heard little or nothing about the financial problems besetting news organizations. I've been curled up in a fetal position –
- for about seven years, and the public hasn't even noticed, you know, that the Des Moines Register is about the size and thickness of my weekly reader?
MARK JURKOWITZ: Bob, the only thing I’m going to say is it proves, without a doubt, that you're only getting 40% of America to listen to your show –
- I mean, which is really the issue.
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHING]
MARK JURKOWITZ: But, you know, there is another finding that goes along with that that’s worth mentioning, and that is that we did ask the question, have you abandoned a specific news outlet because it no longer provides you the news and information to which you’ve become accustomed? And there we had about 31% of the respondents say that they had done that. And it’s interesting that when you do the cross tabs you find out that the people who are most aware of the financial problems are the ones who are most likely to leave a news outlet.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, we began this conversation where you had a half-full glass.
Nothing you have said [LAUGHS] since then has evinced the remotest bit of optimism [LAUGHS] on your part. Just how full is that glass again?
MARK JURKOWITZ: Look, these are obviously very tough times for the news industry but the asteroid of the media has not eradicated yet what has existed previously. And the cable news model, again - and I know you cast some aspersions on that - is fairly solid. Network television – you know, this is a classic case where for the last ten years everybody’s been wondering when the evening newscasts are going off the air. They're not going off the air. They still get good sized audiences. The huge question that's hitting some sectors before others is, obviously, digital revenue. But, at the same time, it hasn't destroyed the infrastructure of the media, as we now know it.
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BOB GARFIELD: Mark, thank you very much.
MARK JURKOWITZ: Bob, it’s always a pleasure.
BOB GARFIELD: Mark Jurkowitz is the associate director of the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism.