The proliferation of new outlets and the increasingly instantaneous nature of newsgathering are creating three basic trends in the content of American journalism.
First, the content is more diverse. Network news, news magazines, and newspaper front pages carry a wider range of topics. But a good deal of the new diversity is in lighter fare – lifestyle, entertainment, consumer news – rather than news about diverse communities or populations. Some outlets are thriving as they reject the trend toward that lighter content. The success of NPR in radio, The Economist among magazines and The New York Times among newspapers suggest the possible rise of a growing elite niche across media sectors.
Second, as more outlets split up the audience and create more competition, financial pressures have led cable and broadcast to devote more of their news holes to branding efforts such as promotions and teases, and more commercials.
Third, to vie for audience in a more crowded 24-hour news environment, there is more pressure to run with stories more quickly – to get, as mentioned above, newsgathering in the raw, and to cover ad nauseam a few big blockbuster stories since it is cost efficient
Cable news channels have largely abandoned the traditional story-telling of written and edited packages in favor of live interviews and reporter stand-ups. This unscripted, extemporaneous approach to reporting does not lend itself to producing content that will move to the Web or that will survive beyond the moment. What is more, if the purpose behind the emphasis on live reports is to offer the most up-to-date information, the content often comes up short. News on cable, and on the Internet as well, is heavily repetitive.
The cable channels in the main follow a handful of stories each day on a fairly narrow range of topics, leaving the larger part of the news menu to anchor reads and the screen crawl.
At the risk of oversimplification, newspapers, the oldest medium, continue to have the strongest content, if for no other reason than that they still tend to have the most reporters. This also gives them an advantage in the transition to the Internet, at least for now, because the Web for the moment remains largely a text-based medium.
News Web sites on the whole are more like newspapers in their content and in their news agenda.
In news magazines hard news topics are losing space, while more is going to lifestyle matters like personal finance and diet. These are not strictly news magazines anymore so much as weekly general interest publications. Meanwhile, the growth in magazine titles is occurring in niche specialty publications about such topics as mountain biking and doll collecting.