State of Journalism report mix of good, bad news

Bobby Blanchard

Editor’s note: This is the first installment of Media Monday, which is a weekly column about journalism, social media, media in general and news.

For the past 13 years, journalism has been dying.

Kind of. Maybe. Sort of. No one is really sure. Perhaps the industry is just shrinking, perhaps it is truly falling apart at the seams or perhaps it is undergoing an exciting digital evolution. In any case, it is evident that the way we learn about the latest development in the Powers/Perry conflict or see the hottest new Ryan Gosling paparazzi shot has changed.

The Pew Research Center for Excellence in Journalism released its annual report on the State of News Media last week where it illustrates the uncertainty we have about the state of journalism. The report, an annual compilation of data on the changing landscape of news and the way we consume news, came with a lot of bad news, but also some surprisingly good news.

First the bad news: Layoffs and cutbacks have put the number of full-time newspaper newsroom employees below 40,000 for the first year since 1978. The number of instances of TV newsrooms covering breaking, live news has dropped by 30 percent. Some news outlets, including Forbes Magazine, have even axed some human reporting in favor of technology that produces and writes news content using a complex algorithm.

The media response to the report has been, for the most part, terrifying. Headlines use the words such as “grim.” Leads focus on cutbacks and the way news coverage is suffering as result of the cutbacks. But many blogs, articles and columns about the Pew’s report are missing some of the rays of sunlight.

To start with, a shocking development has happened that no one could have predicted. Online paywalls are working, and they are not just working at The New York Times. They are also working at smaller papers and news organizations, and digital subscriptions are beginning to slowly make up for the loss of print subscriptions. Circulation is back on the rise. 

And adding to speculation that this is a “grim” day for journalism, the Pew’s report itself is facing criticism.

Within the many pages of this report, something big is missing — college media. As Bryan Murley and Dan Reimold noted on the “College Media Podcast,” the Pew Research Center for Excellence in Journalism did not cover or reference college media.   

As Slate Magazine pointed out, the State of Journalism Report focuses and laments the fall in news revenue and does not talk about the positive data the report found in regards to digital and online journalism. Slate Magazine, which is fittingly an online-only publication, argues there is more good content for people to read online than ever before, and that online journalism is growing stronger.

Some of the best news for journalism comes from the “Digital Development” section of the report, a section that has not been as widely covered in the news. For instance, this section shows 27 percent of people who followed the news on election night in November did so through multiple platforms — television and online. And social media usage, including Twitter and Facebook, is still on the rise. This is especially true for the younger generations. While some members of the older generation get their news from newspapers and television, younger people are more connected online than ever before. Perhaps the old trope that young people don’t read news is totally false, and the truth is they just read it differently.

So this isn’t the apocalypse — yet. Maybe it is coming. But while news coverage from media outlets including Mashable and The New York Times focus on the bad in the Pew’s report, good news is sprinkled throughout. Maybe it is the kind of good news newspapers and journalists do not want to hear, but its good news nonetheless.