State of the News Media: Fight or Fright?


The Project for Excellence in Journalism has released its State of the News Media 2007 report (click here for index). The full report is about 160,000 words. A newspaper reporter colleague wrote this summary which note that:

“The transformation facing journalism is epochal . . . as momentous as the invention of television or the telegraph, perhaps on the order of the printing press itself.” 

This morning I scanned the 49-page section of the report on Digital Journalism. It looked at 38 news web sites, most rooted in old media. A few, including the 20 million visitor-a-month liberal blog Daily Kos and the conservative LittleGreenFootballs, were startups (both from California). Let me pull out a few lessons from that digital subset of the full report.

The report suggested that editorial branding, user participation and customization of content were the most common ways in which online news sites sought to distinguish themselves and win loyalty. In one excerpt the report says:

“More than any other quality, sites built themselves around the idea that their organization’s standards, judgment, and professionalism are the core of the site’s brand. In other words, the notion that the Web has no standards, no professional rules of conduct or editing, is not true when it comes to sites connected to traditional news organizations, to many blog sites studied, or to many citizen-media sites.”

The report calls this branding. I would call it voice. Either way, it’s the perspective, stupid! That’s what web readers want.

The sections on participation and customization were most interesting to me. I’m realizing that participation may be the most important differentiator between evolving web media and those forms of publishing and entertainment that have come before. Here are some things that were considered forms of participation:

  • Users’ contribution to content
  • Scheduled, live discussions
  • Ability to:
    • e-mail author
    • post comments
    • rate the article/post
    • take a poll
  • List of most-viewed stories
  • List of most-e-mailed stories
  • List of most-linked-to stories

I found this list at the very end of this section (see “Analysis”). Lists of this sort help me think of features that I would like to build into a news web site were I designing one.

Is the list exhaustive? I doubt it. Remember, this report was written by and for journalists. They’ll favor propriety over attitude every time, and agonize about the ethics of everything.

So this is probably a conservative baseline of what is possible online and the cutting edge is still a few steps ahead of these insights. If you have reactions, or can think of other opportunities for particpation, or customization, and point to examples where these are used, it would stimulate thinking.

Or you may even care to summarize other sections of the report. I know I want to go back and read the survey of journalists’ attitudes (dour?) at a later date. If you’d like to write up a section summary, please leave a comment and we’ll make arrangements for your guest blog.

(The above picture, from the Museum of Modern Art in New York, is byGuillaume-Benjamin-Armand Duchenne de Boulogne. (French, 1806-1875). Fright, from Mechanics of Human Physiognomy. 1862. Albumen silver print from a wet-collodion glass negative, 4 13/16 x 3 11/16″ (12.2 x 9.4 cm). Gift of Paul F. Walter.)