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Press Alert

Declines in News Audience, Revenue, Reporting –
And A Grim Picture for Economic Models for Online News

March 15, 2010—The losses suffered in traditional news gathering in the last year were so severe that by any accounting they overwhelm the innovations in the world of news and journalism, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

There is tremendous energy in efforts around the country to do journalism in the digital age, PEJ’s State of the News Media 2010 finds, and many of these efforts are bringing a renewed sense of public mission to the news.

But the cutbacks in traditional media dominate. Newspapers now spend $1.6 billion less annually on reporting and editing than they did a decade ago, the report estimates. Network TV is down by hundreds of millions since their peak in the 1980s. Local TV newsrooms are cutting too, down 6% in the last two years, some 1,600 jobs. Only cable news, among the commercial news sectors, did not suffer declining revenue and layoffs last year.

By comparison, the non-profit contributions flowing to these new media efforts since 2006 amount to about $141 million, according to estimates by the group J-Lab. While that number does not include the many efforts that are operating without grants or are coming from legacy media, it offers some sense of scale.

“Last year was significantly harder on the news industry even than 2008, and the report predicts still more cutbacks in 2010, even with an improving economy,” PEJ Director Tom Rosenstiel said. “And while there is more discussion of alternative ways of financing the news, there is not yet much concrete progress.”

Three questions now drive discussions about the future of journalism: How much lost revenue might come back as the economy improves? How much journalistic potential exists in alternative new media operations? And what progress was made in new revenue models online? The answers are not yet all that promising, according to the comprehensive study of the State of the News Media, the seventh in a series of annual efforts by PEJ to take stock of the revolution occurring in news and information in the United States.

Among the study’s key findings:

Grim revenue numbers in 2009: Newspapers saw ad revenue fall 26%, while local television saw a 22% drop in 2009 — triple the decline the year before. Radio was down 22%; magazine, 17%; network TV, 8%. Online ad revenue overall fell about 5%. Cable news was the lone commercial news sector to be spared a drop in revenue. Nearly half of the 37 publicly traded media companies for which there are current data lost money in 2009, according to PEJ’s analysis of media ownership and industry data

Online news consumers resistant to ads and “pay walls.” Fully 79% of online news consumers say they have never or only rarely clicked on an online ad, according to a new survey included in this year’s State of the News Media report that examines the potential for online revenue models. The prospects for “pay walls” are daunting as well: only 35% of online news consumers can identify a “favorite” news website, and of this most likely group that might pay for the content, only 19% said they would continue to visit the favorite site if they had to pay for it.

Top news sites garner most traffic. Of the 4,600 news sites Nielsen tracks, the top 7% get 80% of the traffic, according to a new analysis of news web sites based on Nielsen NetRatings data. Of the top roughly 200 news sites, legacy media are heavily represented, accounting for 67%. Another 13% are aggregators, such as Google News, primarily of legacy content, while 14% are online-only sites that produce original content. The average visit to an online news site is three minutes and four seconds long, but a visit to the New York Times website averages more than a minute longer than a visit to an aggregator site. And contrary to what some might expect about consumers engaging more closely with their favorite topics, people spend about half as much time per month on niche news sites as they do on those focused on general interest news.

A broad range in content and depth in community journalism. A new study of community journalism sites finds that the best sites can vary widely in their values and norms — even among those run by former journalists. Highly regarded sites produce more new content than community sites overall, but they are still limited in capacity. Only 43% of the sites were likely to produce a new piece of lead content each day. Fewer than a third of these select sites allowed citizens to post news or feature stories, information about community events or photographs. Just 2% allowed videos to be uploaded.

Most sectors have seen continued audience declines. For the third consecutive year, only digital and cable news saw audiences grow among the key sectors that deliver news. In cable in 2009, those gains were largely captured by one network, Fox; though during the day, a breaking-news time, CNN also gained viewers. Local TV news, which surveys show Americans most rely on for news, is now seeing audience declines beyond those in network news — and they are across all day parts and all metrics, according to PEJ’s analysis of audience data.

The economy and health care topped the 2009 mainstream news agenda. While PEJ’s analysis of the Year in the News finds the economy was the top story of 2009, in the second half of the year it was outdistanced by the health care debate — and that was led by talk radio and cable news. In the third quarter, talk radio devoted 41.9% of its time to health care. Cable news spent 29.8% of its time on the subject. Meanwhile, bloggers and social media often had a different news agenda. The top linked-to news story among bloggers matched the top story in the mainstream press just 13 out of 47 weeks studied. On Twitter, the top story was even less likely to be the same — just four of the 27 weeks studied, or less than one-sixth of the time. But the traditional media play a large role in the blogosphere. American legacy outlets like newspapers and broadcast networks accounted for 80% of all linked-to stories on blogs.

In addition to these findings, PEJ’s 2010 State of the News Media report analyzes the state of each of the major media sectors and includes two new special interactive features.

The Who Owns the News Media database, which allows users to compare companies by various indicators, explore each media sector and read profiles of individual companies

Year in the News Interactive, which allows users nearly to explore PEJ’s comprehensive content analysis of media performance based on 68,000 stories from 2009

The report is the work of the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, a nonpolitical, nonpartisan research institute. The study is funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and was produced with the help of a number of collaborators, including Rick Edmonds of the Poynter Institute and a host of industry readers.

A PDF of the complete executive summary is available here.

Follow PEJ on Twitter: http://twitter.com/PEJPew