News biz tail-spinning toward a public option

A new Project for Excellence in Journalism Pew study confirms what we all know: Journalism is a labor-intensive skilled trade that no longer pays, at least the way it is set up today. Advertisers hate the web and understandably so. No one has ever had to “click” on an advertisement before for it to be considered effective. Pay walls hobble the internet as medium, isolating content and slowing down surfing. Investigative news– the whipping boy of the digital media era and the jumping off point for so much profitable criticism and commentary– is going away. The market is failing journalism, just like it failed to safeguard the environment in the industrial age.

It took governments to deliver clean water and air. It may take the government to deliver healthy news. Should health reform pass this week or next, Pres. Obama, for the good of the Republic, will have to again climb the ramparts to battle Americans for Prosperity and Co. all over again just for the privilege of asking the country’s Fox News millions to fork out tax money for the real thing.

From the intro to the Pew study overview:

[W]ith growing evidence that conventional advertising online will never sustain the industry, what progress is being made to find new revenue for financing the gathering and reporting of news?

The numbers for 2009 reveal just how urgent these questions are becoming. Newspapers, including online, saw ad revenue fall 26% during the year, which brings the total loss over the last three years to 43%.

Local television ad revenue fell 22% in 2009, triple the decline the year before. Radio also was off 22%. Magazine ad revenue dropped 17%, network TV 8% (and news alone probably more). Online ad revenue over all fell about 5%, and revenue to news sites most likely also fared much worse.

Only cable news among the commercial news sectors did not suffer declining revenue last year.

All hail cable news, at least those who can stomach it. Here’s what Pew confirms about those of us reliant on the web:

pew chart: who will pay

This is from the intro to the “Online Economics” subsection:

The prospect of an economic model for journalism online made only limited progress in 2009, even as the industry’s eagerness to find new Internet-based revenue sources intensified.

Signs that advertising, at least in any familiar form, would ever grow to levels sufficient to finance journalism online seemed further in doubt.

News organizations talked about the need for pay walls to charge for content, but there was little evidence that anyone had found a successful model.

And, public sentiment, according to survey data from the Pew Internet Project and PEJ released for the first time in a separate section of this report, seems strongly resistant to any such model.

Certainly the ad revenue numbers for 2009 were not encouraging.

Overall, U.S. online advertising during the year had its first decline since 2002, according to the online research firm eMarketer, which began tracking in 1996. The firm, whose updated August projections were the most recent, called for revenues to fall 4.6% in 2009 to $22.4 billion, down from $23.4 billion in 2008. And the numbers for the categories that finance news were worse than that.1

Gawker rounds up the Pew essentials and includes more devastating pie charts.

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About the Author

John Tomasic

Writer, editor, teacher, web wrangler. He has worked for art, business, culture, politics publications, five universities and a UN war crimes commission. @johntomasic
jtomasic@coloradoindependent.com | 720-432-2128 |

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