Knight Blog

The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

‘State of News Media’ starts counting digital upside

March 26, 2014, 8:54 a.m., Posted by Eric Newton

newsroom

Photo credit: Flickr user Steve Bowbrick.

In its latest “State of the News Media” report, the Pew Research Center chronicles the growth of digital news organizations by estimating they have created 5,000 new full-time editorial jobs. Some may whine that they did not capture all the organizations, or the right ones. But I say bravo. You have to start somewhere, and this is a great beginning. As traditional media shrinks, new forms grow – and it’s refreshing to see someone trying to tell the whole story of digital disruption.

More than a decade ago, professor David Weaver’s research showed a shrinking of the overall U.S. journalism workforce from 122,000 in 1992 to 116,000 in 2002.  Since then, daily newspapers have shed another 17,000 journalists. That is the half of the story we hear often. Traditional newsrooms are sinking. The advertising declines are so pervasive that the Newspaper Association of America has stopped issuing quarterly reports on the numbers

We need to know more about where the jobs are going – and they are out there, or we would not be seeing steady hiring rates of growing numbers of graduating journalism and communications students. So Pew is setting off on a worthy journey.

Along the same road is Pew’s “News Use Across Social Media Platforms” research, co-sponsored by Knight. Half of social network users share or repost news stories, images or videos, nearly that many discuss the news in social media, and one in 10 submit their own content. Many newspapers now report that half of all their digital traffic is mobile.

I hope future reports consider another large, unmeasured group of journalists providing community news to Americans.  These journalists happen to be students. In some states, students are a key source of capital news used by both commercial organizations and public broadcasting. In other states, students do special investigations and long-form explanatory projects. In some communities, student-produced news is the primary form of local news, period.  Just as we need to better understand the employment and reach of new commercial and nonprofit news organizations, so do we need to add up the millions of Americans who benefit from news provided by thousands of students who, with their professors, department heads and deans, have stepped up. We know something about the number of students involved in the “teaching hospital” form of journalism education, but not nearly enough.

 “New players are boosting reporting power, technological talent and financial resources going into news, creating a level of energy not felt for a long time,” said Amy Mitchell, Pew Research Center’s director of journalism research. I agree with that. These new players are not a flash in the pan. Properly understood, they are a kind of digital baby boom, the children of disruption, born of venture capital, personal donations and increasing foundation investment. Not all will live, but there are many, many more on the way.

Eric Newton, senior adviser to the president at Knight Foundation

Read the complete “State of the News Media 2014” report.