Where’s the news? Traditional media, but …

Industry watchers and newspaper lovers have latched on to a recent study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism showing that in Baltimore, most of the news was generated by traditional media, with newspapers leading the pack.

But before we beat the public over the head with these findings, a few points to consider:

  • Don’t generalize: A lot of markets don’t have a Baltimore Sun covering their communities. My local newspaper, the News-Leader, has cut its newsroom to the bone and has pulled in its coverage over the years from 25 southwest Missouri counties to six, and our top local station, KYTV, often breaks stories. Also, these data come from one week. It’s possible the source percentage might fluctuate, depending upon the week selected for the content analysis.
  • Fear the reliance on government: As @yelvington noted in a tweet this morning, the disturbing statistic is that 63 percent of stories were initiated by government officials. With fewer reporters, even the traditional media are being derivative in their coverage and allowing spokespeople to control the narrative.
  • Reconsider the focus on crime: Local TV and newspaper still devoted the most coverage to crime, according to the PEJ analysis. When you’ve got a small staff, you’ve always got time for crime: Sift through a few reports, chase the scanner, and churn out a quick-hit story that people will tune in to. But that type of coverage doesn’t necessarily further a mission of social responsibility.

In large part, these findings corroborate conventional wisdom. Newspaper movies have chronicled how much the broadcast media depend on print. Leonard Downie Jr. and Robert Kaiser wrote about the trend in “The News About the News: American Journalism in Peril” in 2003.

But the public doesn’t seem to notice. Many don’t care so much where the information originates; they want the information when, where, and how they want it, especially online.

To survive as journalists, we must focus on the latter point.

(Postscript: I first heard about this study from a tweep, not the traditional media.)

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