A new study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism finds that much of the “news” people receive contains no original reporting. Said another way, only a few traditional outlets report on the news, the rest repeat it. The study examined all the outlets that produced local news in Baltimore, Maryland, over the course of a one week period, finding that eight out of ten stories simply repeated or repackaged previously published information. Is this an isolated incident over the course of one news week? Is this data limited to the news cycle in one U.S. market? It’s hard to say. It certainly raises some interesting questions about the quality of local news content in your market.
For starters, this study immediately reminded me of the “pay or not to pay” argument circulating in the media world today. There are plenty of stories out there (here’s one from CNBC) that suggest consumers are only willing to pay for content if they perceive real value and when comparable free content isn’t readily available. A large percentage of consumers get their news through search engines, and most are very or extremely unlikely to pay for content in the future. If the majority of news content is repackaged, consumers are not going to pay. And if producers of paid content can’t stop others from repackaging their content, consumers aren’t going to pay.
There are a lot of other interesting points from this Pew research. For starters, Pew found that 95% of news content came from traditional media – mostly newspapers. These stories set the agenda for most other media outlets.
The study also found the news production at local papers was down in comparison to 1999 on similar topics and issues – 32% and 73% fewer stories in two examples cited. This is no doubt due to shrinking newsrooms and reduced revenues – but those are some significant drops in the volume of news output.
What Sources Trigger News?
Another interesting nugget from the story is a breakout on “Who Triggered News Coverage”, which looks at the sources for six key story lines analyzed for the study (see graph).
I’m a little disheartened – but not surprised – by the percentage of news that comes from Government sources. On the other hand, I like the 15% from “Citizens” figure. The 1% “Spontaneous Events” number surprised me – I would have guessed this were 25% or higher.
Things are moving faster at the local level now. The study found the pace of news is quickening at local papers, as news is posted faster. Of course, there are all sorts of negative implications here for journalism, as news often appears without proper notations and citing – and in some cases, press releases appeared verbatim in coverage (according to the research).
There are a lot of other interesting figures in this report that looked at media covering Baltimore, Maryland, during the week of July 19-25, 2009. For more on this study, read “How News Happens.”
How does this study change your perception of “news coverage” in your local market? Do you think this data is limited to the Baltimore market, or do you think other markets do a better job at local coverage?
UPDATE: This post is a really good example of repackaged news. I saw the Pew report hit yesterday and figured it would make a good post. I wrote the post last night and scheduled for this morning. Since then, a bunch of “stories” have popped up on this topic (most of which I assume were based on the information Pew posted on its website). Here are a few examples – I think this is a good illustration:
- Reporting on Scarcity of Reporting, Without Reporting
- Study: 80% of News Stories are Repackaged from Other Sources
- New Study Reveals American Media Trends
- Newspapers Must Follow Basics of Journalism to Survive
- Newspapers and Traditional Media Still Produce Most News
- ‘How News Happens‘
Since I have typed this list, three more articles have popped up on the same story. Most of these stories are driven by other reports about the original Pew report.