/ 23 March 2008

Web changes US journalism in unexpected ways

The internet has profoundly changed journalism, but not necessarily in ways that were predicted even a few years ago, a study on the United States media industry has found.

It was believed at one point that the net would democratise the media, offering many new voices, stories and perspectives. Yet the news agenda actually seems to be narrowing, with many websites primarily packaging news that is produced elsewhere, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s annual State of the News Media report, which was released last week.

Two stories — the war in Iraq and the 2008 US presidential election campaign — represented more than a quarter of the stories in newspapers, on television and online last year, the project found.

Take away Iraq, Iran and Pakistan, and news from all of the other countries in the world combined filled up less than 6% of the American news hole, the project said.

The news side of the business is dynamic, but the growing ability of news consumers to find what they want without being distracted by advertising is what’s making the industry go through some tough times.

”Although the audience for traditional news is maintaining itself, the staff for many of these news organisations tend to be shrinking,” said Tom Rosenstiel, the project’s director.

NBC News’s recent decision to name make David Gregory host of a nightly programme on MSNBC, while keep his job as White House correspondent, is an example of how people are being asked to do much more, he said.

News is less a product, like the day’s newspaper or a nightly newscast, than a service that is constantly being updated, he said.

Last week, for instance, the New York Times posted its first report linking New York Governor Eliot Spitzer to a prostitution ring in the early afternoon, and it quickly became the day’s dominant story.

Only a few years ago, newspaper websites were primarily considered an online morgue for that day’s newspaper, Rosenstiel said. ”The afternoon newspaper is in a sense being reborn online,” he said.

A separate survey found journalists are, to a large degree, embracing the changes being thrust upon them. A majority say they like doing blogs and that they appreciate reader feedback on their stories.

When they’re asked to do multimedia projects, most journalists find the experience enriching instead of feeling overworked, he said. The newsroom is increasingly being seen as the most experimental place in the business, the report found.

Most news websites are no longer final destinations. The report found that many users insist that the sites, and even individual pages, offer plenty of options to navigate elsewhere for more information, the project found. Rosenstiel said he’s even able to reach the Washington Post stories through the New York Times‘s website.

In another unexpected finding, citizen-created websites and blogs are actually far less welcoming to outside commentary than the so-called mainstream media, the report said. — Sapa-AP