NEW YORK (Reuters) - The U.S. news media, whittled down after a year of extensive layoffs at newspapers and television outlets, focuses on a far narrower band of news despite audience demand for a variety of information, according to a study released on Monday.
In its fifth annual study titled the “State of the American News Media,” the Washington-based Project for Excellence in Journalism found U.S. audiences still most interested in news from well-established outlets such as the New York Times or Washington Post as they read more on the Internet.
But as those organizations cut jobs to contend with declining advertising and circulation, the pattern that emerges is a stronger focus on a handful of headline topics.
“Even with the revolution of information, we may have no wider ... a news agenda than we used,” Tom Rosenstiel, the PEJ’s director, told Reuters.
“Although it is fragmented across traditional media, the staff at any one of these news organizations tends to be shrinking,” he said.
“You have in a sense more reporters across more outlets, but they are all covering a fairly narrow band of stories. There are more people congregating at the White House, fewer at any one government agency.”
In a study of more than 70,000 stories appearing in newspapers, cable and network television and radio news shows, pieces on the war in Iraq and the U.S. presidential campaign occupied nearly one-third of the coverage.
“The whole rest of the world filled less than 6 percent of all the space,” Rosenstiel said. Domestic issues such as education, welfare, religion or labor each accounted for less than 1 percent of coverage.
The PEJ is a project of the Pew Research Center and funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
The report found stronger evidence of trends it discussed in its previous 2007 study, notably the separation of advertising dollars from the news business. The industry could take up to 10 years to realign its economic model as major organizations build up their Internet operations.
Many newspapers get as much as 7 percent of their revenue from the Internet, but in many cases half their audience is online, Rosenstiel said.
Some of the disparity comes from the move of classified ads out of print publications into non-news related sites. But the Internet is also not offering an easy alternative for other forms of print ads.
“They’ve got to figure out a new way of generating revenue around journalism because it’s not simply going to happen naturally,” Rosenstiel said.
Some promising trends include the integration of video news onto newspaper-affiliated Web sites, since Web audiences have been shown to be more attentive to video advertising than graphical banner ads. Local news organizations may also benefit from efforts to bring ads from smaller vendors online.
But as Rosenstiel notes, many traditional news organizations are not yet built to handle advertising sales centered on video or local search.
“The people I talk to who are working online say ‘we think we are going to go through a ten-year tunnel,’” he said.
Editing by Jerry Norton