For decades the news media industry is hunted by the continuing trend of diminishing audience base. This is true for television, radio and print media alike. To alleviate the situation news corporations converted the news to be more entertaining to attract audiences Although entertainment-based or soft news proved to have helped news corporations to increase audience base this penchant towards softer programming could actually in the long-run just diminish the audience base more. This paper will focus more in the television media.
The public do wanted to be entertained from time to time while watching news programs but the primary reason on why the public watch the news should not be forgotten. Information about the local community, the country and the world are the content the public is looking for in news. Even if the public wanted to be entertained still the chief obligation of the media is to deliver news that is accurate, informative, and impartial.
To satisfy the contradicting desires of the public the media corporations could reconsider the proportion of the programming in their networks. The hard news is what the public needs but the soft news is what the public wants. News programs the concentrate only in hard news could not attract new audiences to tune in since it is not offering anything that the public wants. On the other hand, if the news program concentrate more to scandals, celebrities and other trivial news, it could loose the audience base it already have since it is not offering anything they need. Thus, to be able to survive in the industry the media corporations should feed the audience with what they need to sustain them but at the same time give them what they want to keep them interested in the show.
What is News?
Journalism is the field of gathering, writing and timely reporting of events that happen locally and internationally. As years passed journalism has taken many forms and news can be broadcast to numerous medium. But what event could be considered as newsworthy? According to David Westin, President of ABC News, it is news if it is relevant to the public (“What Counts as”). Others believed that news is the unusual events that recently happened, whether it is significant to the public or not (Profita, 2006). In the end different people will have their own version of what is news. Their notion of what is newsworthy will be influence by their background, upbringing, profession, age, sex, interest, and other factors. But one thing is for sure, news is stories base true events.
With the advent of better technologies like the Internet, journalism is now not limited to journalist but has spread to common citizens as well. Common people with or without training in journalism can post opinions and comments on current events through blogs or podcast. And as the number of Americans having access to the Internet and also using it as a source of information (“The State of the News”). The competition for audience share among traditional mediums like television, radio and newspaper only got rigorous.
Readers and viewers of news now have a variety of sources to choose from. However since each sources are driven by different goals, to classify the type of news provided by each to only hard or soft news is tricky. The following pointers could be used by a perceptive follower of the news to be able to differentiate the relevant news to follow : (Danesco)
· Hard news is characterized by information backed up with evidence from reliable sources. It is also impartial by showing the opposing side of the story. Stories under this concern the majority of the population such as politics, money matters, natural calamity, crime, war, and world news (“What is News”).
· Editorials are opinions of only one person. It is one sided reporting of news. Data presented are not backed up with any substantial evidence. Usually provokes the reader or viewer to react.
· Soft news or infotainment is stories that concern only limited number of the population. Stories like scandals, celebrity gossip, travel and leisure, and sports. Also hard news programs that are combined with less important stories like the examples above are also considered to be soft news (Nisbet, 2001).
· Tabloid journalism contains faux stories that are entertaining. This is different from infotainment since infotainment reports about actual events.
The types of journalism presented above are only few of what is now out in the industry. Most of the current programs available for viewers could fall to one or more combination of these types. More than ever viewers should be more vigilant and meticulous in choosing news programs to tune in. Due to various factors news programs might not have all the essential information a viewer if looking for about a particular event or story. The best way to be objective and informed then is to utilize other sources available. A well informed citizen is what democracy needs.
Current State of Different Medias
The following will be an overview of how the different media is faring. All of the information is from the study of The Project for Excellence in Journalism [PEJ] unless cited otherwise (“The State of the News”).
The newspaper continued to experience problem with profits, distribution, and stock prices. Although there are a lot of staff cutbacks the newspaper was able to cover issues that were not given importance by the other media. Such issues are health care system, economy and non-U.S. foreign news. To catch up with time newspaper websites got a facelift and additional multimedia content was added. These modifications draw more online readers. Add that together with traditional readers and the reader base has never been this sizeable. To be able to recover solution for the dwindling audience share as well as profit should be formulated as soon as possible.
Number of Americans going online is increasing as well as those who specifically go online to read the news. Some of the top news online sites are web presence of traditional media like the New York Times, Garnett, and USA Today. Profit from advertising is low in news websites and few only searches the sites. Also websites about journalism run by a common citizens are growing. News covered on the other hand is more international in nature meaning foreign news that does not include the United States.
The network night news is still the place to get well composed, edited and produced news. Compared to cable and morning news this is more impromptu and unedited. Although the audience base is smaller than before the media is stable. After trial and error of media stations Katie Couric of CBS is the top broadcaster. Politics, war, crime and disasters are the top news of the morning news shows. Both the night and morning news program suffer with viewer loss. Previous staff cutbacks cause a decline in foreign correspondents but some are reinstated this year.
Local television continues to thrive through advertising even if there is threat from new technology and transformation of daily routines of locals. It still remains to be well-liked compared to other sources. The evening and late night news still decline but the morning shows are stable. Profits are still declining but it was worst last year than this year. Local televisions are doing well in the stock market as well. Employee cutback is also present in the local television. Money investment is on technology like digital streams thus salaries remain unchanged.
Cable television is stable in terms of profits and viewers. Cable websites are also very popular as well. Fox News is the leader among major players in cable televisions. Followed by CNN Headlines News then CNN and lastly MSNBC. MSNBC covered mostly politics, while CNN is on war in Iraq and Fox is more about celebrity and crime. There is no significant growth in terms of viewers but in terms of profit the business is stable. New players like BBC, France 24 and Al Jazeera have a slow start but continue to be hopeful. While another new player Current TV, offers viewer created news, shows a good start.
In the magazine scene Time change its publication date and did reduce its circulation to be able to attract advertisers and transfer more news online. Newsweek did the same. Both publications also modify their respective websites. Other publication like U.S. News & World Report is having problems in terms of circulation and advertising. Its contents are usually stories about the country and international affairs of the United States. The Economist, The Week and the New Yorker on the other hand are more stable. Local and foreign news, health, finance, culture and leisure are the top news in major magazines.
News is still part of the radio but no innovation take place. Audience also breaks up to other listening sources like satellite, HD, Internet, MP3s, pod casting, and mobile phones. Money-wise radios are doing well and some stations are gearing towards private ownership. There are investments in the Internet and other equipments. Dispersion of listeners resulted to variety of programs in the radio. It has also become a significant source for information.
The Dilemma of News Media
Trouble lurks in the media industry and studies show that journalists’ primary concern is the monetary predicament media owners are facing. Other issues are value of the news and the declining trust of the public. The following graph shows the major concerns of American journalists (Pew Research Center, 2008).
As the graph shows both the concerns of national and local journalists does not differ much from each other. Further studies conducted by The Project for Excellence in Journalism shows that most media outlets do suffer from financial lost and is tied up with advertising (“The State of the News”). In the print media the newspaper was struck the most by this financial crisis. The proliferation of free online advertising causes the decline in classified advertising which is the conventional source of income. Even efforts of creating their own website was not enough since online profits is lesser in contrast to conventional advertising (Henry, 2007).
This crisis is an ongoing issue among print media companies and for the last three years countless journalist, reporters and editors have lost their job. With this diminishing pool of analytical and investigative journalist the excellence in writing weaken as well (Henry, 2007). Not only is the quality jeopardized but also coverage of news. If there is limited number of people to cover stories some noteworthy events will be dropped in favor of stories that could sell copies. The result will be substandard stories that have little to share to the public.
Television on the other hand does not experience this degree of threat since commercials are still the most effective form of marketing. However the biggest issue at hand is the decline of news viewers. Both Network and Local television suffer from this drop for quite some time now and only Cable Television seem to be able to recover (“The State of the News”). Initially to bolster sales and ratings most news program experimented with infotainment (Nisbet, 2001). However as the latest study by PEJ shows the trend seems to still continue despite adjustments in programming.
A poll done by We Media/Zogby Interactive shows that 67% of Americans believe that the media is oblivious to what Americans want to see in the news (Nachison, 2008). The table below shows what categories of news Americans do follow or are interested to see (Robinson).
The study conducted by PEJ about the state of the news media just confirms these two findings. The following graph shows side by side some of the stories the public follows versus the media coverage it got (“The State of the News”).
Taking into account all these findings from different sources it just shows that the media is not in sync with its audience. Base from the data above the most relevant issues to Americans like disasters and money matters only receive very little coverage as seen in Figure 3. But least relevant event like the VA tech killings, which falls under tabloid news, receives larger coverage.
Others issues that worries journalists are quality of the news and lastly other things that Americans are just too occupied with other endeavors and have no time to watch the news. (Pew Research Center, 2008).
Do Americans Still Watch the News?
As a citizen there will always be a need to know what is happening around the community, country, and the world. Conventionally news programs are the authority to go to for information but for the past years, night and morning news program in network and local television, experience constant decline in audience.
The increasing number of options of news source was first blamed as the reason for the decline in audience share. This started in the advent of Cable in 1980 which is offering 20 up to 300 channels. In addition UHF stations and Fox arrive as well (“The State of the News”).
Another threat is the Internet, in the past years the number of broadband subscribers increases and together with it is the rising number of users getting news online (Horrigan, 2006). According to the latest trend reported on the Pew Internet and American Life Project website 75% of adult Americans have access to the Internet and 71% of those users get the news while online. In addition a research by the IDC, a premier provider of market intelligence, advisory services, and events, shows that Americans spend twice as much time on the Internet [32.7 hours/week] compared to television [16.4 hours] and eight times more than reading the newspaper and magazines [3.9 hours] (‘IDC Finds Online”, 2008). The study also shows that the trend will continue upward in favor of the internet. This will not bode well for the traditional media like the television and newspaper since loss in revenue and audience will continue.
The changing lifestyle of Americans is also factor in the decline. Working class now takes longer to travel from work to home. Most of the time they are either not yet at home or too tired to watch the news. While others are just occupied with other things like taking care of their children. (“The State of the News”).
Not only the lifestyle but the preference of Americans has change as well. As more Americans are exposed to infotainment their preference will evolved and will start to seek these shows somewhere else. Since there are now more dedicated shows, the public can now choose the show they wanted to see.
From Traditional to the Soft News
Over the decade the nightly news programs have undergone changes from being a traditional, most of stories are comprise of hard news, to a softer version of it, news are now combined with topics that fall under soft news (“The State of the News”).
Traditionally journalism acts as a supervisory body for the public. Journalists are the ones who closely monitor the current and political events that would affect everyone. An impartial body that investigate both sides of the story. Unfortunately, with declining ratings and share, Americans seem to care less about this old form of news (Stockwell, 2004). To be able to attract back viewers news programs loosen the content of news in the 1990’s (“The State of the News”).
Most conventional journalists believes that the shift towards soft news weaken the authority of news corporations (Nisbet, 2001). While advocates of soft news believe that it provides range of standpoints and review that traditional hard news lack (Stockwell, 2004). However clear distinction between the two has become blurred through time. Some stories could fall in both categories for instance the scandal involving New York Governer Eliot Spitzer. The story involves a political figure and a scandal.
Media companies invested time in covering soft news since it attracts viewers, now viewers means ratings, which will bring in advertisers ergo profit. As a business, media outfits need profit to be able to sustain the business but overrated coverage of soft news is overkill. Indeed by nature people wanted to be entertained but viewers do not think of Paris Hilton or Britney Spears all day long rather they think about relatives in Iraq or who will be the next President.
It is understandable that media companies need to find ways to keep up with the competition but the reason on why people watch the news should not be forgotten.
Future of the media is uncertain and with 54% of the population not trusting the press (“Over Half of Americans”) anymore what could journalists do? A journalist obligation is to the public and to the truth not to the media owner. If one stay true to this credibility of the press will not wane and trust of the public could be won back. Media owners have the right to run their companies as they wish but their obligation to the public should come first before anything else.
As argued above soft news in the long run will just continue to decrease the audience base of news program instead of increasing it. Patrons of news tune in to the program with expectations that the stories are relevant to daily lives, informative, and accurate. Continued exposure to news that loyal patrons consider as trivial will only leave them dissatisfied and eventually will go find the news they wanted somewhere else. Experimenting will be the key to find the right combination that could satisfy the audience. The press has a duty to inform the public with what is happening around the community especially in the country to make the public a smarter member of the democratic system. How can we expect the public to vote for the right President if they are not aware of the candidates’ platforms? But at the same time keep in mind that too much of something is not good as well. But the quality of the news should not be given up in favor of profit or entertainment. It is the depth of coverage that shows the journalist strength, integrity, commitment and sincerity to the job.
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