The news media’s freefall continues, creating both good and questionable opportunities for the PR world to deliver information directly to consumers, a new report suggests.
The Pew Research Center report
, “The State of the News Media 2013,” says the power of journalism is shrinking as the news industry continues to cut jobs and news coverage.
“This adds up to a news industry that is more undermanned and unprepared to uncover stories, dig deep into emerging ones or to question information put into its hands,” according to the Pew report released today.
The good news, at least for PR professionals, is that the public’s hunger for news holds steady and that those with information to share are getting better at using digital technology, bypassing media outlets, and taking messages directly to the public.
The report cited an example of how business leaders in Detroit created an organization to serve as a “tour guide to journalists” with the goal of injecting more favorable portrayals of the city into media coverage.
Pew said the overstretched editorial resources are also creating some less desirable interactions with PR professionals. Agenda-driven propaganda campaigns are showing up in news outlets under journalists’ bylines, and some PR pitches are offering rewards for coverage.
“Journalists get lots of pitches like this [with rewards for coverage] these days, which is partly a reflection of how the number of journalists has shriveled while the number of publicists has grown,” journalist David Cay Johnston says in the report.
To emphasize the growing disparity between journalists and PR professionals, Pew cited an analysis of Census Bureau data by Robert McChesney and John Nichols
that found the ratio of PR pros to journalists tripled in less than 30 years—from 1.2 to 1 in 1980 to 3.6 to 1 in 2008. The gap is even bigger now.
More highlights of the report’s findings include:
• For newspapers, estimates for newsroom cutbacks in 2012 put industry employment down 30 percent since its peak in 2000 and below 40,000 employees for the first time since 1978.
• On local television, where audiences were down across every key time slot in 2012, news stories have shrunk in length, and, compared with 2005, coverage of government has been cut in half, while sports, weather, and traffic now account for 40 percent of the content.
• On cable, coverage of live events during the day, which often requires a crew and a correspondent, fell 30 percent from 2007 to 2012, while interview segments were up 31 percent.
• Among news magazines, the end of Newsweek’s print edition coincided with another round of staff cuts, and Time, the only general news print magazine left, announced cuts of roughly 5 percent in early 2013 as a part of broader company layoffs.
In wrapping up the report’s findings, Amy Mitchell, acting director of the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, said:
“There are all sorts of contributors in the evolving landscape of news and, in many ways, more opportunities for citizens to access information. But there are more signs than ever that the reduced reporting power in the news industry is having an effect and may weaken both the industry’s capacity to produce in-depth journalism and its credibility with the public at the same time that others are gaining more voice.”
Gil Rudawsky heads the crisis communication and issues management practice at GroundFloor Media in Denver. He is a former reporter and editor. Read his blog or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.