Citizen Journalists or Citizen News-Readers?
I have long held the belief that the growth of social media and the woes of print publications ultimately will spawn an evolved news media that includes more citizen journalism. The medium is not dying. It is morphing into new vehicles that better serve a public using computers, handheld devices and, perhaps, interactive television to stay informed, conduct research and express opinions. The Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism just released their lengthy report, "The State of the News Media" for 2009 and the speed of the evolution is striking. The study disclosed that "nearly one out of every five journalists working for newspapers in 2001 is now gone." The biggest issue for all news media -- including the new online media -- is revenue and the current economic downturn, naturally, is taking its toll.
"If estimates by Advertising Age prove accurate, total spending on advertising fell for the second consecutive year. Another decline is predicted for 2009. That would mark the first consecutive three-year decline in advertising spending since the Great Depression. For news, some of this—perhaps at least half—cannot be attributed solely to the cyclical downturn.It also reflects the powerful structural shifts brought on by digital technology, which has allowed those who want to reach consumers to do so without the news media as intermediary. "
A new segment of the report this year on citizen-based media was particularly interesting to me. In many ways, though, I believe the writers buried the lead. The last paragraph contained the most intriguing nugget:
"Even among those most engaged with the new technology, the numbers are not large. Only one-in-five of the most technologically oriented users, a group that amounts to 13% of adults, post a comment on news stories even just occasionally. And only 1-in-12 have ever posted a photo or video."
The report talks about citizen blogs, which are largely opinion and, interestingly, usually don't encourage or even support commentary. It contrasts these with the rarer citizen news sites, which are more accepting of comments and material from readers, but are usually narrowly scoped. Some of these have filled the gaps in local communities that have lost their daily or weekly newspaper to cover local events, for example. There is some original reporting in the citizen news sites, but they and the citizen blogs often source legacy news sites to make their points. Certainly we have seen -- and encouraged -- the trend of self-publishing with our own clients, many of whom are connecting with their own customers and partners via blogs, Twitter and other social media outlets. They are still working with the legacy media, print and online, and the new social media sites and bloggers. But they are making sure they deliver their messages directly to their customers, as this is what customers now want -- a direct connection with the vendors who are most critical to their success. When you are spending a significant amount of your IT budget on something for your enterprise and you have to show return on your investment in a tight budget year, you want to feel that your vendor is listening to you directly. You also want to double-check your decision on that vendor -- not only with analysts, but also with other customers through citizen blogs and other social media.
It's an interesting many-faceted study which does a very good job of detailing the nuances of this mid-stream evolution. It both defines the economics issue which affects all of these forms of media and also points out the differences in the new offerings. It will be fascinating to see how this shifts over the next year, especially as the economy improves and with the anomaly of last year's election removed. I'll be particularly interested to learn whether visitors to blogs and sites increase their number of comments and postings over the next year, showing they truly want this to be an interactive dialogue rather than just a research process.