I'm in Amherst, Massachusetts, at the Media Giraffe conference and am frustrated.
Most of the speakers from mainstream media seem to have an intrinsic belief that the package of journalism they're been providing for the past 50 years shouldn't change, plus that their journalism ("quality, objective journalism") simply needs to be placed onto new platforms (the Web, mobile phones, etc.) to get more people to use it and ensure the future of journalism and the news media in general.
The facts belie their faith in that belief. Newspapers' and news magazines' circulations and readerships are steadily declining, as is listenership and viewership of news broadcast. Some publishers and broadcasters claim that their websites' increasing numbers of users show that there are no declines but increases. But I know that the data from those sites show that those users actually use the news media online far less frequently and much less throughly than users of those media's traditional print and broadcast products. People are 'voting with their feet' and rejecting mainstream media's package of journalism, whether in print, broadcast, or online.
Meanwhile, I'm also frustrated by the alternative being offered here: the utopian fantasy that if the news media would only incorporate 'citizen journalism,' all will be well. Bullsh*t!
Yes, I think that most of mainstream media long lost ago lost touch with a plurality if not majority of their audience. I agree that much of traditional media might have been complacently 'talking down' to their audience for years. I indeed think that "citizen journalism' is an excellent tool for helping to repairing those problems; but it is just one of many new tools needed. Most of "the people formerly known as the audience" still want to be the audience, don't want the onus of reporting the news themselves, and the ongoing data including those from 'citizen journalism' projects that have existed for a few years about citizens' involvement in journalism isn't and won't reverse the declining usage of news. Facts, not faith.
During the opening session of this conference, I raised my worry about 'citizen journalism' being peddled as a panacea. But Jeff Jarvis, my co-moderator of that session, cut me off. "I don't think that's the question!"
Well, thank you, Jeff, for telling the conference that what you're co-moderator is asking is not the question. I think it is. I'm not alone 'Citizen journalism' shouldn't be a sacred cow. Certainly not at a conference whose stated purpose is to examine the future of journalism and participatory democracy.
Jeff has claimed that if only one percent of a site's users engage in 'citizen journalism,' it will create a "democraticized community." I think he's an advocate who's making the proof fit the results. His claim reminded me of certain 20th Century nations' claims that their 99 percent voter turnouts proved that they're democracies. No, give me usage rates of 40 percent (like U.S. voter turnout) or even 20 or 10 percent, and I might believe. Sorry, but one percent participation doesn't make something a success or a democracy.
There is a pile of solipcism in the news industry. We like to report the news, so we think that most people would, too. But I fear that some advocates' single-minded focus on 'citizen journalism' is distracting the news media from many, many other changes it must make. The advocates are succumbing to Maslow's Syndrome when the tool in your hand is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail. 'Citizen journalism' is a wonderful tool, but more tools than just that are needed to repair and rebuild the media.
Moreover, researchers and analysts such as Prof. Robert PuttnamBowling Alone) have ably documented that we live increasingly in a nation of couch potatoes when it comes to the news usage, civic involvement, and comity. Traditional media editors have long believed that they somehow can control that by changing the story package, but there's widespread evidence that their belief is just an article of faith and not fact. Likewise, advocates of 'citizen journalism' believe that they can that they have that influence, too.
No, just giving the tool of 'citizen journalism' to the public won't reverse the declines. More changes to journalism than just 'citizen journalism' are necessary. What's needed is not just including 'the people who used to be known as the audience' but also changing the core journalism by the people who used to be known as Knight Ridder.
Technorati tag: mgp2006
June 14, 2006
The average age of a user of American newspapers' websites has increased by five years during the past five years, according to annual survey data I've seen from Belden Associates. The data strongly indicate that the American newspaper industry's strategy of going online to appeal to younger readers is failing.
The average age of a user of American newspapers' websites was 42 during 2005 and 37 during 2000, according to Belden. The average increased during four of the past five years.
True, the average age of the website user is younger than that of the average reader of a printed edition 42 versus 55. But the American newspaper industry's online strategy has been largely aimed at reaching users in the 25 to 34 age plus those in the 35 to 44 age group in general.
The Belden data shows that the ranks of newspaper website users who are age 25 to 44 have steadily declined during the past five years while those in the oldest age group (55 plus) have increased.
If the American newspaper industry is to reverse its declines, it must steadily decrease not increase, the average age of its users whether users of print or online.
Greg Harmon of Belden Associates showed me the data during Editor & Publisher and MEDIAWEEK magazines' Interactive Media conference.
Each year since 1999, Belden has interviewed more than 134,000 users (including 38,300 during 2005) of 39 U.S. newspaper websites of various sizes. Here are some Belden highlights about the users:
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June 4, 2006
I’m in Moscow, where I will be attending some of the sessions of the World Press Association Newspaper (WAN) Congress and the associated World Editors Forum. One early observation from what the organizers have put on the program is ongoing concern about the online world for the editors, but business as usual for their publishers.
On the Editor’s Forum is a keynote address by Columbia Business School’s Eli Noam, whose theme starts with the warning “Today's newspaper will become a news-integrator, but the problem for traditional news organisations is that this type of virtual integrator function can also be done by others.” Other speakers here (remember, this is are newspaper publisher and editor conferences) are Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, Corante Media Hub colleague Steve Yelvington, Yahoo! News’, Neil Budde and Google News’ Nathan Stoll. Mochila.com and Microsoft have their presence here as well.
Unfortunately, the sessions for the publishers are far more mundane, despite promising titles. A session with the promising description of the “latest research and strategy reports in the Shaping the Future of the Newspaper project” is about classified advertising. A session headlined “The Product Innovators” will feature “The Future of newspapers - newspapers of the future” with that digital innovator Axel Springer of Germany and a “Review of the Russian media scene.” from TNS Gallup Media. Of interest, perhaps, but hardly the stuff of shoring up a sinking ship.
In all fairness, WAN has always been heavily European with a strong South American and Asian presence (China has a impressive delegation of 41 registered participants, compared to the 70 or so from the U.S.) In many regions newspaper circulation is still growing, thanks to improvements in literacy that expands the universe of readers and the lower penetration of cable, DBS and the Internet than in the West. That said, the publishers might be serving their future better by attending the Editor’s Forum.
While the New York Times Co. and the Washington Post have some reasonably high level people attending, is there any message in who is missing: no one from McClatchy, Gannett or Tribune Co. (other than a mid level European manager from the Tribune News Service).
If any worthwhile insights stumble out of these conferences, I’ll be sure to share them.
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