The News About The News

the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Germany license. Attribution: Kai Mörk

News coverage of a press conference, not a TV camera in sight. But most people still get their news from their TV sets. Attribution: Kai Mörk. Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Germany license.

During the past twenty years, each of the network’s evening newscasts have lost half of their viewers. These days, about 18 million Americans—that’s 18 million out of 240 million American adults—watch the nightly network news on ABC, CBS or NBC, with another 1 million watching PBS NewsHour. Still, most Americans still get their news by watching local and network television—that number hovers around 60 percent. If online is the second most popular source, it won’t be second for long, and it may have overtaken television in many peoples’ lives. Despite its convenience, radio is on a steadily decline; since 1991, it has lost about half of its role as a news provider. Its decline roughly matches the decline of newspapers, down.

For the most part, we pay for our news by watching and reading advertisements, and clicking on some, too. Advertising accounts for more than 2/3 of financial support for news. The second largest segment? Direct payments from the audience in the form of subscriptions, roughly 1/4 of the pie—the portion of your cable bill that pays for CNN, your subscription to a newspaper, your contribution to NPR or one of its member stations.

In the U.S., the news business is a very substantial: about $64 billion per year. That’s about 1/10 more than Google, which is, of course, just one company. Starbucks is about 1/4 of the size of the U.S. news business, but the global video game industry is about twice the size, so maybe Americans (alone) spend as much money on videogames as they do on news.

About 1/3 of all Americans now watch news video online, and that fraction increases to 1/2 for those in the 18-49 age group, but this is still a very small part of the whole news business—less than 10 percent of revenues, in fact.

Newspapers are changing—essentially eliminating their printing presses, trucks, ink and other 19th century concepts in favor of digital distribution. Among all newspapers, 1/4 to 1/3 of readers are using a digital device regularly, and among the 15 largest newspapers, nearly 1/2 of readers are enjoying their daily or weekly editions on screens, not on paper.

In just six years, Time Magazine and The Economist have lost about half of its newsstand sales—once a common model, picking up the magazine at the newsstand, now seems hopelessly old-fashioned. The New Yorker and The Atlantic have lost only about 1/4 of their newsstand sales. The decline is steady, and probably inevitable, but it’s difficult to explain why certain magazines have lost so much more than others. During the same period, revenues for Fox News Channel have doubled (but both CNN and MSNBC have shown only modest gains). In case you’re curious, it costs about $800 million a year to run Fox News, and about the same amount to run CNN (MSNBC costs less than $300 million.)

Five or six years ago, many journalists panicked because their industry seemed to be disintegrating. Some decided to take action. Since 2008, more than 100 digital nonprofit news outlets have popped up all over the country (in just about every state except Utah, the Dakotas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Utah. The San Francisco Bay area, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Philadelphia, New York City and Boston have been especially well-served. Some are sponsored by universities or nonprofits, some are independent, some are foundation funded. It’s certain a significant trend, albeit a new and fragile ecosystem. Many began with the financial assistance of a startup grant, typically under $100,000, that renewed only some of the time for a second go-round. Still, foundation funding is the principal source of funds for many of these fledgling operations. They deserve our support—especially during the critical early years. Happily, most surveyed felt that they would succeed in the long run through a combination of advertising, sponsorships, live events, individual subscriptions, and other forms of economic support. This an interesting phenomenon, and you can read more about it here.

The biggest change? Digital news sites are now strong enough to hire top journalists from newspapers, and entrepreneurs (Jeff Bezos, Pierre Omidyar) are investing in the future of news gathering and distribution. The good news: this once-doomed industry is again showing signs of life, imagination and energy. As you time permits, I encourage you to fully explore the SPECTACULAR collection of reports that comprise the Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project’s State of the News Media 2014 report. It’s all online. Or, download Overview PDF here.

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome to the Times Machine

It’s taken a decade or so, but newspapers are finally beginning to get the hang of this new media thing.

Among the most impressive new offerings: The New York Times Machine, an online experience that allowed me, in an instant, to read a story, originally published on May 25, 1883, entitled: “Two Great Cities United: Bridge Formally Opens.” From the text:

The Brooklyn Bridge was successfully opened yesterday. A fairer day for the ceremony could not have been chosen.”

Train service was extended from Easton, PA, Long Island, and other just-far-enough-away places. The service was decidedly a Brooklyn celebration. The people in New-York (at the time, the hyphen was still in common use) were less ecstatic, but showed up in the tens of thousands to join the celebration.

I know all of this because I am reading the actual printed page of the newspaper, the story in its original font, in its original presentation. I can see what happened on that day by reading other stories. There was an uprising of Italian railroad workers in Philadelphia who demanded their pay before they went back to work. The French government is having trouble with their colonial subjects in Madagascar who seem willing to “fight to the death” for their rights (The New York Times is remarkably even-handed in telling this story.) General Grant arrived in Chicago, and will leave for Galena tomorrow (in fact, that was the whole story).

The interface is simple, and well-designed. On the left, which occupies about 3/4 of the screen, there is simply a picture of the newspaper. Click on a story, and it becomes large enough to read. (No way to copy contents just yet, but I hope that will be part of a future release.) On the right is a search window and a list of search results, each with a headline. Some stories are presented with a brief summary. Every story can be forwarded by Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Google+, and more (this feature doesn’t work just yet, but it will soon).

After writing this initial draft of this article, I decided to explore some more. The Sunday New York Times for July 20, 1969 is filled with fascinating advertisements. I found a real zebra rug offered for just $195, marked down from $395, from Hunting World (“the sought-after high-contrast skins with the darkest stripes and the whitest backgrounds”). And now, the news… A judge in New Jersey determined that the conflict in Vietnam was, legally, a war. TV writer Jack Gould explained how television signals were transmitted from the moon. Bobby Seale led a Black Panther rally with about 3,000 people; most of them were white, and they shouted, repeatedly, “power to the people” while thrusting their fists into the air. Son House, Sleepy John Estes, Brownie McGhee, and Yank Ranchel were among the performers at the Newport Folk Festival (I wish I had been there!). Elsewhere in New England, last night, Ted Kennedy’s car ran off a bridge in Edgartown, Massachusetts, and the yet-unnamed female passenger was killed.  Ted Williams was managing the Washington Senators, host of that year’s baseball All-Star Game, celebrating the 100th anniversary of professional league play. And, the Pope, still watching black-and-white TV, arranged for a color set so that he could watch today’s Apollo moon landing. It is SO cool to see these original stories in their original form. This particular edition included over 450 stories–plus a whole lot of interesting (and not so interesting) advertisements, mostly from department stores.

The current version is a prototype (Beta version), so the range of dates and stories is very limited. Still, it’s fascinating to see what The New York Times Machine will be–and soon.

Below, a sample image. It’s far easier to read the real thing (just click here).

NYTimesMachine NYTimesMachine2

The News from Camden

For the past month or so, I’ve been thinking about a series of articles about the ways in which we define news, and the purpose served by that definition. Earlier today, I encountered the article below. It’s written by a Jesuit Priest named Jeff Putthoff who does the Lord’s work by running a youth development center in Camden, NJ. Before you read the article, you should know that half of Camden’s children live in poverty, and that only half of Camden’s adults finished high school.  Once a thriving manufacturing city, Camden is located just across the river from Philadelphia–in fact, you can walk over the Delaware River, from one world to another.  Camden is a great American urban challenge–and  Reverend Putthoff is among those who believe in the city and its people. His view on the news is the subject of this essay, which appeared on Philly.com on August 19, 2012. I suspect most of my readers have not seen the article, so I am encouraging you to read the article by either clicking on this Philly.com link or reading the text of the article below.

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Killings that don’t make news

The Rev. Jeff Putthoff is executive director of Hopeworks ‘N Camden

A few weeks ago, Camden had its deadliest July since 1949. That was the year that Howard Unruh, America’s first serial killer, killed 13 people on one day. This year, 13 people were killed over the course of 31 days. At the time, I commented on how differently the violence in Camden would be covered by the news media if it had been done by a single serial killer as opposed to many killers.

Amazingly, with the killings in the movie theater in Aurora, Colo., we see how gripping one killer of many is to the country. We also now have a case of domestic terrorism – and significant international news coverage – with the horrible killings outside a Sikh temple in Wisconsin this month. Both of these incidents were unimaginable tragedies that have sparked hundreds upon thousands of debates and even more news stories. Both have elicited outrage and even responses from President Obama.

Here in Camden, where more people were killed last month than in either of the tragedies in Colorado or Wisconsin, there has been limited outrage and media coverage. In fact, there has been more attention and news about the new medical school than there has been about the people who are dying right outside its walls in the streets.

Just recently, I had in my office a young man who was speaking to his grief about losing a friend last month to a shooting. This was his second friend in a year who has been shot and killed. The loss is real, the trauma of the violence is deep, and most alarming is the lack of moral outrage that accompanies the “domestic terrorism” visited upon the people of Camden.

In State College, the crimes of Jerry Sandusky have been met with outrage. The outrage is not only about what was done to many young people, but the fact that so many people seem to have known or had some information about what was going on and chose to put Penn State’s image or football program first.

In Camden, murders are not being properly prioritized. Not only is our city being traumatized by ongoing, incessant violence and the trauma of losing life, but there is also a terrible public acquiescing that keeps it protected and perpetual. Such a lack of outrage is itself abusive. It “normalizes” the violence, making the unconscionable acceptable and continuing to wound the already wounded.

The question is, why do 13 murders in 31 days in a city of 77,000 find so little voice, so little reaction, in our world today? A movie theater, a temple, and a football locker room all engender a response that the streets of Camden don’t seem to warrant.

Camden is facing escalating crime and death. And yet the outrage is muted, the TV networks don’t send news trucks, and no memorial is held. It is the ultimate bullying: collusion with an abusive situation. In State College, such collusion is why Joe Paterno’s statue was taken down and why some officials may go to jail. As long as we continue to know and not act, the systemic and repeated abuse of Camden will continue.

The ongoing abuse and violence that are occurring in Camden need to stop. The lack of action around this issue is an outrage.

E-mail Jeff Putthoff at jeff@hopeworks.org.

 

Brooke’s Illustrated Guide to Media Theory

On the Media host Brooke Gladstone, in cartoon form, illustrated by Josh Neufeld for The Influencing Machine, “a media manifesto.”

Brooke Gladstone is a brave woman. In the interest of explaining why media matters, she loses her head, plays the fool, embeds an Intel chip in her skull, becomes the robotic vitruvian woman, takes on the whole American political system (from its start in the 1700s), allows herself to be drawn in a hundred goofy ways by cartoonist Josh Neufeld, and…while on the high-wire, without a net…attempts to tell the truth about media and its influence on the ways that we think, believe, and act. In the early stages of this graphic non-novel’s development, it was “a media manifesto in comic book form.” Close enough. (If you’re interested, here’s how they did it.)

The Influencing Machine is now a paperback comic, the equivalent of a graphic novel, I guess, but it’s not easy reading. It’s a well-researched, deeply thoughtful examination of why media behaves as it does, how media interacts with law and government, and the interaction of history and philosophy. Pictures and the graphic novel style keep things light, and concise, but this is not a book to be read once, and it’s not a book to be read quickly. The starting point is news and public information, which may seem appropriate, but for most people, most media consumption is not news or information, it’s entertainment. And in that domain–which should include children’s programming, scripted comedy, scripted drama, and the variety shows that keep the masses satisfied (and have for centuries)–media’s influence is powerful, but rarely mentioned here.

She begins with a Victorian era story about machines that control people’s minds–or the fears that such a thing might someday exist.

Then, she explores the ideal of a perfect balance between effective governance and free flow of truthful information…only to find that such a balance is always outweighed by the government’s need for control.

Quoting German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860):

Journalists are like dogs–whenever anything moves, they begin to bark.”

Most profound–and most evident in today’s journalism–is “The Great Refusal.” Simply stated, by Gladstone, “Few reporters proclaim their own convictions. Fewer still act on them to serve what they believe to be the greater good.” With pressure from government to suppress potentially important information (for example, think: embedded journalists and the trade-offs they must make), and lacking the necessary resources to provide information based upon research and time to consider the story so that it can be presented in context, most journalists simply parrot press releases or official statements. Along the way, they must steer clear of various biases, and play within what most people perceived as reasonable boundaries. This behavior gets everybody into trouble because the whole point of journalism should be uncovering stories that ask the difficult questions…but the system is not set up to encourage, fund, or accept that kind of journalism. Instead, posits Gladstone, we live within a comfortable doughnut. What’s more, any journalist who strays finds himself or herself either (a) famous, at least for a while, or (b) difficult to employ. The risk of the latter is very real, and so, the status quo rules.

And so it goes, as Gladstone attempts (and is drawn to be) a bird of a feather, flocking together in homophily while watching global warming destroy habitat–she calls the phenomenon of groupthink “incestuous amplification” and illustrates it with references to global warming and weapons of mass destruction. She considers reasons to be okay and reasons to panic. She wonders about dumbing down and frets about the half  of Americans who never read literature. She briefly touches on intellectual property laws, and G.K. Chesterton’s statement about journalism:

Journalism largely consists of saying ‘Lord Jones is dead’ to people who never knew Lord Jones was alive.”

And she wraps up with notions of globalism, and the ways that news is now a 24/7 global enterprise whose stories may affect us all.

There are few answers here, and the questions, well, they’re often difficult to shape and impossible to answer. At least she’s asking the questions, and placing herself in the middle of a digital storm. Thank you, Brooke, for steering clear of the obvious text presentation (mea culpa here, I’ll admit, as I write another few hundred words of text). The visual presentation, and the illustrations by Josh Neufeld, bring important ideas to life. And if there’s any interest in continuing the adventure to explore the many unexamined territories in the media landscape, count me among your first readers.

We need to talk about all of this stuff because the forces that demand silence are both powerful and ubiquitous. Even if it’s complex, even though it’s difficult to form into digestible bites, even if most people wonder why we’re obsessed with the way that media works, ought to work, and, sometimes, doesn’t work at all.

Below, some sample pages:

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