A new report provides a refreshingly optimistic insight on the future of American journalism.
Despite ongoing challenges facing newsrooms, Pew Research Center’s 2014 State of the News Media report highlights several reasons to be hopeful about where the industry is headed.
The Rise of Digital News Ventures
From small non-profits to major news sites, recent months have brought numerous high-profile announcements of journalists joining digital news organizations. Pew’s analysis of the growth of digital reporting cites the flood of hiring activity in this area. For example, Yahoo hired high-profile New York Times reporters David Pogue and Matt Bai, and Ezra Klein’s new venture at Vox Media has attracted other high-level Washington Post staffers. Digital news outlets, such as Mashable, Huffington Post and BuzzFeed, continue to aggressively grow their staffs.
For companies and organizations with compelling stories to tell, the growth of the digital news universe creates outlets to fill reporting gaps left by shrinking print newsrooms. The growth of smaller organizations designed to cover a niche area – such as The Marshall Project, a nonprofit focusing on criminal justice that recently brought on former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller – provide an opportunity to communicate more directly with specific stakeholders. These outlets can narrow in on niche topics or small communities that larger news organizations are not covering. Pew’s president Alan Murray recently highlighted this trend on CNN’s Reliable Sources as “one of the most fascinating things going on in journalism right now” as this type of in-depth focus is where innovation happens.
Technology Increases News Consumption
In contrast to claims of a waning appetite for news and consumers that passively browse news headlines, the report points to evidence that technology is allowing news to reach more people than ever before. The rising use of mobile devices has led people to spend more time with the news. Also, i
ncreased social media use has prompted the younger generation in particular to find more news clips online and spread stories through social media platforms.
The study found that more than half of Facebook and Twitter users consume news that is linked from those sites. The majority of these individuals do not go to social media for news, meaning that they are consuming news that they would not otherwise encounter. In addition to sharing news stories, social network users are also engaging with the news and contributing to reporting through their own photos or videos.
While cable news ratings declined last year, viewership of online video news is growing rapidly. Thirty-six percent of American adults watch news videos online, which is slightly higher than the 34 percent who watch cable news regularly. This shows that there is still a market for TV news clips – the public is just changing how it consumes video.
As another positive sign for the industry, technology industry insiders who have made smart investment decisions in the past are increasingly putting money into media ventures. In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Alan Murray cited Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s purchase of the Washington Post and venture investor Marc Andreessen’s comments that: “I am more optimistic/bullish about future of news industry over next 20 years than almost anyone I know.”
There is no arguing that the news environment is changing. While the industry continues to grapple with readers’ reluctance to pay for news online, declining ad revenues and other obstacles, this study offers a new sense of hope driven by the rise of digital news and increased reader engagement via technology. It also provides further evidence that the public has a continued appetite for quality reporting and still greatly values the credibility and objectivity that comes with editorially-filtered professional journalism.