As I was driving my mother-in-law to the airport this afternoon we were having our usual low-intensity disagreements about politics, war, the media, whether or not Diane Rehm and her voice like a 110-year-old tracheotomy victim should remain on the air, and we did agree that while there is a vast amount of information out there - more than ever before via the Internet, cable TV, satellite radio, satellite radio, etc. - unless one makes a specific effort to seek out diverse viewpoints, one is likely to fall into a comfort zone where one's preconceptions are reinforced rather than challeneged or broadened. And we also agreed that the quality of news from the major outlets like network TV (and their local affiliates), commerical radio, and major newspapers has deteriorated markedly.
A study released today said the exact same things:
- Most U.S. news media are experiencing a steady decline in their audiences and are significantly cutting their investment in staff and resources, according to a report issued on Monday.
The study on the state of the U.S. news media by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, which is affiliated with Columbia University's graduate journalism school, found only ethnic, alternative and online media were flourishing.
....Circulation of English-language daily newspapers has dropped 11 percent since 1990; network news ratings are down 34 percent since 1994; late night local TV news viewership fell 16 percent lower since 1997 and cable news viewership has been flat since late 2001.
On the positive side, Spanish-language newspaper circulation nearly quadrupled over the past 13 years and advertising revenues were up sevenfold.
The report cataloged a striking decline in the number of journalists employed in American newsrooms. There were one third fewer network correspondents than in 1985; 2,200 fewer people at newspapers than in 1990; and the number of full-time radio newsroom employees fell by 44 percent from 1994 to 2001.
Only 5 percent of stories on cable news contained new information, the report found. Most were simply rehashes of the same facts. There was also less fact checking than in the past and less policing of journalistic standards.
Quality news and information were more available than ever before, but so was the trivial, the one-sided and the false.
Consumers with the time and patience to distinguish between many different sources of news might be better informed, but many were likely to find news outlets that echoed their own view of the world without providing alternative viewpoints. [Reuters]
The report's "Conclusion" section reads:
- The larger trends we see in the data on content, audience, economics, ownership, and newsroom investment all could add to public distrust of the news media. There is something, in other words, of a vicious cycle in the public attitude data. As declining audience leads to newsroom cutbacks and other financial fixes, these reinforce the public's suspicions that news organizations are motivated more by economics than public service.