Nearly one-third of U.S. adults have abandoned a news outlet due to dissatisfaction

Readers, viewers and listeners may not have followed the contraction of the news business closely, but they're beginning to notice the effects of five dismal years for many publishers. That's one of the key findings of this year's State of the News Media report from Pew's Project for Excellence in Journalism.

"Nearly a third of U.S. adults, 31%, have stopped turning to a news outlet because it no longer provided them with the news they were accustomed to getting," the report says.

With reporting resources cut to the bone and fewer specialized beats, journalists’ level of expertise in any one area and the ability to go deep into a story are compromised. Indeed, when people who had heard something about the financial struggles were asked which effect they noticed more, stories that were less complete or fewer stories over all, 48% named less complete stories while 31% mostly noticed fewer stories. Overall, awareness of the industry’s financial struggles is limited. Only 39% have heard a lot or some. But those with greater awareness are also more likely to be the ones who have abandoned a news outlet.

The report is a rich document that requires a lot more attention than one blog post can give it. But here are some other takeaways of immediate interest.

Local TV news is facing an existential crisis

Audience is down.

Last year's report said local TV news was growing audience. 2013's report said that growth didn't amount to much. "The strategy of gaining viewers by adding more and more time for news appears to have stopped paying off," the local TV section says. Only 28 percent of people under 30 get their news from local TV stations, down from 42 percent in 2006. Local newscasts lost audience in every sweeps period Pew studied. The audience for early-morning news grew, but did so in numbers that proved insignificant against overall audience loss.

More paywalls at newspapers present opportunities for growth, but few TV stations take them. 

Greensboro, N.C., Albuquerque, N.M., Tulsa, Okla., and Des Moines, Iowa, are among the few markets where local TV stations' websites are the top sources for news, and all have newspapers that charge readers in some way. But turning that advantage into revenue has proved difficult; only 3 percent of stations' revenue, on average, comes from their websites.

Ad gains were unevenly distributed.

Earnings reports at companies that own lots of TV stations were unusually joyous documents in the third and fourth quarters of 2012 thanks to a bonanza of political advertising. That money was unevenly distributed, though, landing mostly in swing states. Auto ads were up at many stations, reflecting the strengthening of that sector, and retransmission fees from cable providers were another bright spot. The court maneuverings between Aereo and broadcasters are worth watching, the report says: That service rebroadcasts local TV signals over the Web, (so far) without compensating broadcasters.

Local TV's share of local advertising has not increased much.

Picture for newspapers improves, but...

The three-legged stool

The picture for newspapers was better in 2012, but that's mostly relative to the utter misery of preceding years. Circulation revenue -- including digital subscriptions as well as physical ones -- got closer to ad revenue at many papers, which is only good news if you forget that ad revenue has fallen to the point where convergence became possible. The third leg of the stool for publishers is "other" -- sponsoring events, taking on outside printing work, selling real estate.

Ad prices are dropping

Online, newspapers and other publishers continue to struggle against the declining value of banner ads. That's a problem because banner ads account for the preponderance of newspapers' online advertising. The price news organizations can charge for video ads is going down as well, Suzanne Vranica reported last week in The Wall Street Journal. And readers haven't embraced video content as wholeheartedly as publishers had hoped:

Neither The Wall Street Journal nor Reuters drew enough viewers for YouTube to continue investing in their channels. The Journal’s videos often brought in weekly viewership between 500,000 and a million, while Reuters’ ranged from 200,000 to 400,000 viewers, according to the Nieman Journalism Lab. That is a far cry from the most popular YouTube channels, which can reach 3 million to 7 million views in a week.

"[B]usiness, education, health care and overseas events receive more coverage in newspapers than in the media in general," the report says. "Campaigns and elections (the biggest category in 2012) and crime receive less."

The many challenges of African-American media

Black-oriented TV news is still hard to find.

No ethnic group in the U.S. gets more news from television than African Americans, but most attempts at creating news programs aimed at black viewers have been star-crossed. There are promising news offerings, though, from TV One and OWN, which broadcast Lance Armstrong's confessional.

Print is in trouble even by newspaper-industry standards.

Only one African American newspaper, the New York Amsterdam News, grew circulation in 2012. Accounts receivable are a problem at many outlets.

Fewer and fewer black-owned radio stations

Consolidation, Portable People Meters and easing of rules about station ownership are edging out smaller companies.

Digital and social bright spots

The biggest news website aimed toward African-Americans is Huffington Post Black Voices. African Americans use some forms of social media more than whites, which could mean other avenues for sharing news stories and driving traffic to news organizations' sites.

You can read my colleague Rick Edmond's analysis of the report here.

Amy Mitchell, acting director for the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, will elaborate on the report's findings in a News University Webinar this Wednesday.

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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