The State of the News Media annual report was released March 14, examining the strengths and weaknesses of news media, including the emerging role of the Internet.
Reporting is moving toward faster, looser, and cheaper models of journalism, according to the media report. The traditional press model, like newspapers and network television, has given up ground to a new and quicker-paced journalism, where opinion passes for fact and the veracity of information is rarely verified.
The report asserts that the Internet will soon challenge cable news stations as the Web makes searchable video available. Online audiences are growing, the report said, and traditional media are now using technology companies such as Google and the growing number of Web loggers to explore and innovate on the Internet.
According to Alison Schafer, assistant professor of broadcast journalism in the School of Communication, big news networks have lost credibility because of the ubiquity of blogs. Slips in fact-checking and authentication of stories are mistakes bloggers will quickly bring to light.
Blogs helped uncover errors at CBS but also spread an unfounded conspiracy theory about the GOP stealing the presidential election in Ohio. According to The State of the Media Web site, “Blogs, and the not so factual foundation they can sometimes be based on, make it easier for public opinion to be manipulated.”
The report said printed papers will be threatened by cyberspace if they cannot figure out a way to bring in more money online, because audiences are moving to the World Wide Web.
AU students use a variety of news sources, both print and online. Tom Leiby, a sophomore in the School of International Service and the School of Public Affairs, said he skims The Washington Post’s headlines and news sites such as CNN.com. Elizabeth Wilkie, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences, said she gets most of her news off the Internet, particularly The New York Times Web site.
In addition to blogs, which many people rely on for their news, audiences have also been turning to alternative TV news. “The Daily Show” is a satire, but the stories, jokes and topics are taken from real news.
For example, rather than talking about debates, discussions or policy, host Jon Stewart said jokingly about President Bush’s recent trip to Europe that Bush had a meal with his “European Nemesis” Jacque Chirac and made a speech “asking for money” for Iraq.
“If you actually read the newspaper, you understand Jon Stewart’s comments and point because it refers to real news,” said Lauren Muscarella, a sophomore in the School of Communication.
The report also said that journalists might need to start making their work “more transparent,” meaning they should remain open and honest about their reporting and newsgathering practices so that audiences can decide for themselves whether to trust their work.
According to the report, “the era of trust-me journalism has passed, and the era of show-me journalism has begun.”
Schafer said that the public’s perception of news is what determines its influence.
“It doesn’t matter how accurate news is, but how seriously people take it and if people perceive it as factually based,” she said.
Vicky Argueta, a sophomore in SIS, said she feels the news she gets is pretty accurate.
“I sometimes flip the channel from CNN, where I get the majority of my news, and see what other news stations are saying, and they say pretty much the same story,” she said. “I suspect that every news source has a bias or audience that they are trying to reach that would influence coverage of the news.”
The State of the Media report examined 16,800 stories, including more than 6,000 newspaper stories and more than 1,000 online stories. Dates were chosen from Jan. 1 to Oct. 13, a span of 286 days in which story samples were taken for the study. Details of the report can be found at http://www.stateofthemedia.org/2005/methodology.asp
The report was conducted by the Project for Excellence in Journalism and collaborators and was funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts.