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Woes go Beyond Audience, Economics: Journalism Losing Control of Future

March 14, 2011—The state of the U.S. news media improved in 2010, at least in comparison with a dismal 2009. Newspapers were the only major media sector to see continued ad revenue declines, down 6.4%. (After our report was published, the Newspaper Association of America released its final tally and put the drop at 6.3%.) But as online news consumption continues to grow—it surpassed print newspapers in ad revenue and audience for the first time in 2010—a more fundamental challenge to journalism also became clearer. The news industry in the digital realm is no longer in control of its own future, according to the State of the News Media report from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Online, news organizations increasingly depend on independent networks to sell their ads, on aggregators and social networks to deliver a substantial portion of their audience, and now, as news consumption becomes more mobile, on device makers (such as Apple) and software developers (Google) to distribute their content. And the new players take a share of the revenue and in many cases, also control the audience data.

“In a world where consumers decide what news they want and how they want to get it, the future belongs to those who understand the audience best, and who can leverage that knowledge with advertisers,” said PEJ Director Tom Rosenstiel. “Increasingly that knowledge exists outside of news companies.”

These are some of the conclusions in the eighth annual State of the News Media report, which takes a comprehensive look at the health and status of the American news media. This year’s study includes detailed looks at the eight major sectors of media. The special reports this year include a survey about the role of mobile technology in news consumption and the willingness of people to pay for their local newspaper online, a look at emerging economic models in community news and a study of how the U.S. newspaper business is faring compared with other nations.

The Who Owns the News Media database allows users to compare companies by various indicators, explore each media sector and read profiles of individual companies.  And in the Year in the News Interactive, users can explore PEJ’s comprehensive content analysis of media performance based on 52,613 stories from 2010.

Among the study’s key findings:

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, Deborah Potter of Newslab and a host of industry readers.

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