State of the Journalism Industry – Highlights from the AEJMC

I have the fortunate opportunity to be spending this weekend in Washington, D.C., as I have been invited to the annual conference put on by the Association of Educators in Journalism and Mass Communication to present one of my papers.

This afternoon I was able to attend the conference highlight I was most looking forward to, a panel discussion on the state of the industry featuring Tom Rosenstiel of the American Press Institute; Jim Brady, who is editor-in-chief of Digital First Media and president of the Online News Association; Rob Mennie of Gannett Broadcasting; Karen Dunlap, president of the Poynster Institute; and the host of the panel session, Bob Papper of Hofstra University.

I cannot begin to describe how insightful, interesting and exciting this discussion was. Not surprisingly, engagement was a theme that resonated throughout the session. What was interesting, however, was the idea of a return civic journalism and commitment to communities being regarded in very high standards by news outlets.

Without further ado, I present some highlights from these powerful speakers.

Tom Rosenstiel

  • Previously, consumers had to adapt their behaviours to accommodate the media (in terms of news at specific times, for example). Today, the news media need to adapt their cycle and behaviours to suit the audience.
  • We are in a period of democratization and a type of enlightenment, in this sense.
  • Audiences are consuming more news today, not less. 25% of people state they are consuming more news, while only 10% say they are consuming less. Among those who consume through mobile technologies, 32% say they are consuming more and only 8% consuming less.

  • Technology (especially mobile) have made the audience for news younger.
  • The median age of the mobile-only news consumer is 33.
  • 59% of adults aged 18-24 read news through some outlet.
  • This crisis is a revenue crisis. Overall newspaper revenue down 40%, ad revenue down 55%, total newspaper readership only down 10% from 2006.
  • There is no longer a news cycle, but instead a cycle of news discovery.
  • News consumers are loyal to brands across platforms.
  • Long-form reading is back, and this includes on (and possibly spurned by) mobile technologies.
  • Mobile will be primary digital platform for news consumption in 3-5 years.
  • Half of newspapers’ audiences are accessing through mobile, and half of that (25% overall) are accessing only through mobile.
  • As smartphone users like “task specific” apps, the key to journalism on mobile is to be task-based.
  • Journalism will be a collaborative intelligence experience.
  • The web rewards specialization, and this is true for journalism, as well.
  • Consumers expect news outlets to be at the same level. If HBO and NBC are streaming online, they expect CBS to be doing the same, for example.
  • Since 2009, the promise of many-to-many has become a reality.
  • Journalism educators need to teach students how to teach themselves, because if you focus on a platform, that platform could be irrelevant in a couple of years. Focus on the fundamentals, not technical skills.

Bob Papper

  • The average TV newsroom is the largest it has ever been, but we are losing an average of 8 TV newsrooms a year, so total employment is unchanged.
  • Radio news employment is stable.
  • The average size of a local TV newsroom is 38.5 people, while with a local newspaper it is 27.5 people.
  • In 2012, 45% of TV newsrooms increased their staff, and only 9% shrunk their staff.
  • In 2013, 66% of TV news stations expect to make a profit, the most since 1996. It is expected 35% of TV newsrooms will increase their staff.
  • Online, TV websites were down slightly in terms of profit. This year, most TV news websites focused on more social media, more streaming newscasts, and it was a year of massive redesigns and relaunches among TV and radio station sites.
  • 99% of TV and 97% of radio station websites have no paywalls.

Rob Mennie

  • “A great time to be in journalism.”
  • What social media has done is phenomenal.
  • Second screen usage is skyrocketing.
  • The reason why people have stopped watching TV news is “we suck,” and “we have driven them away.” We were too focused on spot news and not on actual journalism.
  • We are investing heavily in social media and mobile technologies.
  • As less technical staff is needed (usually only three staff members for a newscast), money is being reinvested into newsroom staff.
  • Consolidation is simply the nature of the beast, though it is good for consumers as it allows centralization of technical jobs and allows more people to be in the newsrooms and on the street.
  • Young journalists should understand advocacy and civic journalism.
  • Graduates leaving j-school should be disruptive (not sit in the corner quietly), and be smart. Employers do not care as much about tapes or experience, just being smart.
  • As the industry is safe, it is important for young journalists to be different and realistic, as the reality of news consumers is different.
  • “We have not hired people because of their Facebook page.”

Jim Brady

  • Mobile is not “just coming,” it is very much already here.
  • Average number of touches on someone’s mobile phone in a day is 150, but only 4% of those lead to news.
  • To be successful, outlets should work attention to mobile into daily newsroom routines.
  • Outlets cannot assume that readers want the same thing from a mobile experience as from print.
  • There are in fact two kinds of mobile consumers, and both deserve different strategies: tablet strategy (typically users spend more time here and will read longform) and smartphone strategy (users looking for short bursts of information.)
  • Media companies need to be concerned with what’s next, which will be wearable technologies, like Google Glass.
  • Newspapers need to earn the consumer everyday online. You do not have a newspaper being delivered to the doorstep to remind them of your brand, so you must earn their attention each and every day.
  • Use reverse chronological style of reporting spot news rather than doing a number of writethroughs.
  • Mobile provides the ability to tap into everyone as a potential journalist.
  • Provide more (hyper?)local coverage in newsrooms, and centralize national stories.
  • Even if you don’t know the business model of mobile, you need to build an audience and try to create something. If you wait, you’re dead.
  • Should look to not use web content to feed mobile, but to use mobile to feed web content, as mobile will be more common form of consumption in next couple of years.

Karen Dunlap

  • We need to celebrate that excellent journalism is still ongoing in the face of these figures of staff reductions and a revenue crisis.
  • It’s important that we re-establish values and this is a critical time to talk about values.
  • The central values worth revisiting are truth, transparency and community.
  • We need to better understand news consumption and engagement.
  • Need to understand that overall news consumption is not necessarily down, but that it’s a complex picture.
  • Need to examine the question of what does news mean to people now? In particular, if individuals are more about snacking on small bits of news all day, how much substance are they getting out of that?
  • People can get the news, but can they get the story?
  • We need to think of community as the end in journalism.
  • Journalists and media outlets should think of how well they help a community locate a problem, wrestle with it, and move on.
  • Journalism should keep the community in communication with itself.


**For my Canadian friends and colleagues, it should be noted that all panelists were speaking specifically to the American market, and should be interpreted in that context.**

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