Do People Really Care About Journalism's Struggles?

Are they really seeing what has happened?

“In a big news year, most media continued to see audiences shrink.”

This according to The State of the News Media 2009 report by the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism. Nothing new there.

Googly Eyes imageWait. That can’t be right.

Think about that statement. In 2009, the media covered some of the biggest stories in recent times. These include the near second coming of The Great Depression, two American-led wars overseas and the election of the first black president in history.

What gives? People should be flocking the news. Their world has changed, is changing and continues to morph into something completely different and new.

Do people really care about journalism’s struggles?

Nope. That isn’t to say that they couldn’t or don’t want to care.

But why don’t they?

There are three major reasons:

1. The structure of the media. Media critic and scholar Robert McChesney states in his book, The Political Economy of Media, three major reasons for a lack of debate over media structure. One of them is the fact that corporate media have successfully promoted the idea that the status quo is the “only rational media structure for a democratic and freedom-loving society. This holds true to some extent. People may think that with huge corporations controlling media organizations, there’s no chance for change.

2. People like free. Much of the debate about journalism centers on monetary issues. Yes, the industry has shed countless jobs, but according to a recent study by the Inland Press Association, some newspapers have increased their operating profit over the last five years.

According to an article about the report:

Outgoing Inland Executive Director Ray Carlsen said the report compares the gains and losses at daily papers across the country. “It’s encouraging to note that newspaper profitability can still achieve a double-digit percentage of gross revenue,” Carlsen said. “It means that newspapers are still a good business when compared to the results of other industries.”

Many newspapers have seen huge declines in profit, but continue to see profits of 12 percent to 15 percent. Perhaps free news isn’t that bad? People like free, so if the news industry starts charging for everything, the prevailing attitude among people seems to be that the content can be found somewhere for free.

3. The choice for news grows everyday. People no longer need to rely on broadcast news or their major metro daily newspaper for news. They have Facebook, Twitter, blogs, independent Web sites and each other. Anyone can create content today, so the top-down function of old media has become extinct.

How do we make them care?

  • Provide unique content that isn’t watered down or found anywhere else. Make sure it tells a story.
  • Give that content context. Why is it important to the audience? What does it mean?
  • Segment the content into digestible bits that hit home for different members of the audience.
  • Use multiple creative ways to distribute the content. Print. Online. Social media. Mobile media. Email lists. Employ them all.
  • Engage in conversation with the audience. They matter more than anything else.
  • When in doubt: The bottom line matters. The story matters more. What the audience thinks matters even more.

Image by Ayla87.

Note: This post is a short assignment for my class in Contemporary Media Issues about journalism’s recent struggles.