Most News Still Comes From Traditional Media

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:

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.

About Jeremy Porter 214 Articles
Jeremy Porter has been passionate about the intersection of public relations and journalism since studying both Public Relations and Journalism at Utica College of Syracuse University in the late 90s. Porter launched Journalistics in 2009 to share his ideas and insights around both professions and how trends and developments in modern day marketing, communications, and technology impact those working in these fields. Porter also values the traditions and history of both professions and regularly shares his perspective in these areas - and related topics geared toward the next generation of journalism and public relations professionals.


  1. Jeremy:
    I think there is a further definition you need to consider.
    There is straight “AP like” reporting – think of how many smaller newspapers now have a weekly Wall Street Journal section in them.
    Then there is the “I’m smart and I tweeted or blogged about this and you should infer its a great article because I forwarded it”. This occurs mostly online, but it is a separate category from straight content – although the author has not contributed content.
    Last of all, there is the “this was some terrific content but I am going to use my own brain and add to it”.
    Some of your links are the last two – we’ll have to wait a day or to if some smaller newspaper to see if they reprint an online take of things directly into their paper.
    Each of these types has value, but the value added is different.
    Direct sourcing – value comes from the source
    Forwarding – value comes from the forwarder
    Value added – well the name I used is obvious, the writer added additional value.

    • Great points Ann. I personally think all of this stuff will drive more and more direct sourcing. I think we’ll quickly reach a point where “value added” gets old, followed by “forwarding”. The only model that can work through the next decade – whether we’re talking print, blogs or tweets – is original content.

  2. Great post Jeremy. For me the biggest take away reinforces my view that traditional media still matters — a point I tried to articulate earlier in this Bulldog Reporter piece . This is however, the first comprehensive study (and blog post) I’ve read that measurable supports my intuition and I believe it will advance the conversation in the right direction. Instead of debating whether one is better than the other — i.e. is social media more important than media relations (which is amazingly similar to older debates about PR vs. advertising), the focus will center on how we make this all work together.

    • Print still matters in so many ways. Great point. For me, it’s about originality. It’s a lot of work to repeat, remix or repackage – but it’s much more work to report, write, revise and publish.

1 Trackback / Pingback

  1. Friday, June 3 class | Media History, Media Today

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.