Highlights from the Pew Research Center State of the Media Report

As you may have seen, The Pew Research Center recently released its annual State of the Media report. To save you a couple minutes, we pulled together the crucial need-to-know bits from the report that shed light on the current news media landscape.

Local TV is in need of a little love.
Yes, we know, newspapers are heading toward demise. But let’s not forget poor lonely local TV. Previously thought to be on the (slightly) safer side, local TV ratings dropped in every key time slot and across all networks in 2012. Local TV is still one of the top news sources for Americans, but ratings have been sliding, especially among younger generations who practically live on the internet. So what is local TV used for now? 40% of local news coverage is devoted to sports, weather and traffic – a 8% increase since 2005.

People get their news from friends and family.
This isn’t to say that I’ll listen to my crazy uncle talk about climate change first, then go to Mother Jones afterwards to read up on the issue. But it is important to note that people turn to the peers they trust first to hear what they have to say about the important news stories of the day, whether on social media or through word of mouth. According to the report, “For nearly three-quarters of adults (72%), the most common way to get news from friends and family is by having someone talk to them.” This is a clear sign that news outlets will have their work cut out to gain the trust of news consumers. So what can they do about it? Well, to put it simply: produce high quality, trusted journalism that makes people want to talk about it with their friends and family.

Paid digital content is the new black.
450 of the nation’s 1,380 dailies have started or announced plans for some kind of paid content subscription or pay wall plan. Not all news outlets have the established credentials of the New York Times or as strong a following as Andrew Sullivan’s The Dish, but they’re still taking the leap toward paid content. With digital ad revenue growing at 3% per year in the newspaper industry, digital subscriptions are seen as a vital component for future news business models.

So what benefit will paid digital content have? Well, of course, there’s that mysterious thing called revenue for the news outlets. But the paid content walls could also result in quality journalism “as news organizations strive to produce unique and high-quality content that the public believes is worth paying for.”

Is that a sponsored advert or an actual article?
Two things you need to know:

  • The long-dormant sponsorship ad category is seeing sharp growth.
  • Sponsorship ads/content rose 38.9% to $1.56 billion, following a jump of 56.1% in 2011.

In short, native ads and sponsored content are set to grow across many media platforms. The challenge? News outlets run the risk of confusing readers about the difference between advertising and news content, which frustrates readers. Remember the Atlantic/Scientology fiasco? That wound up a lot of readers, and underscored the need for transparency. Dear news outlets, people will not bite into everything you try and sell them, and they can smell fake articles a mile away.

The news industry continues to lose out on the bulk of new digital advertising.
Digital, digital, digital: it’s all about digital. The UK’s Telegraph recently announced a number of layoffs, meanwhile Newsweek went all-digital in December and the shift to digital-only is becoming an inevitable move for most news outlets, as it’s a struggle to compete with mobile devices and local digital advertising. To break it down: “Mobile advertising grew 80% in 2012 to $2.6 billion. Of that, however, only one ad segment is available to news: display. While mobile display is growing rapidly, 72% of that market goes to just six companies—including Facebook, which didn’t even create its first mobile ad product until mid-2012.

People are taking their message directly to the public.
One main takeaway highlighted in the report is that cutbacks in newsrooms mean that the news industry is simply not prepared to conduct in-depth, quality reporting. Maybe the scariest thing about this: A growing list of media outlets, such as Forbes Magazine, use technology by a company called Narrative Science to produce content by way of algorithm. No human reporting necessary. The erosion of quality journalism means politicians, government agencies and companies are taking their messages directly to the public, as they have become “more adept at using digital technology and social media to do so on their own, without any filter by the traditional media.” The report revealed that the 2012 election campaign reporters were acting primarily as megaphones, rather than as investigators, of the assertions put forward by the candidates and other political partisans.

“For news organizations, distinguishing between high-quality information of public value and agenda-driven news has become an increasingly complicated task, made no easier in an era of economic churn.