Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Incredible Shrinking News Audience

A bunch of reports out this week point out circulation declines at major U.S. newspapers. This is where, quite frankly, the bulk of "news" is created, despite what people think TV and cable news and all the rest, which repackage and rerun the same stories over and over (shark attack, Obama and Wright, shark attack, rinse and repeat...).

A column points out, through deft use of links to other studies, how bad it really is. Online audience grows, but the numbers are small compared to the print decrease. The math is simple: a smaller audience.

What people know will boil down to the bits and pieces they catch from CNN, from Fox, from broadcast networks. Most of that is inadvertent exposure to hyped, repeated, partisan-flavored coverage. For the six people who watch PBS, you get some serious content. No one else, at least not on the boob tube. And research shows again and again that watching TV news does little to increase political knowledge. Some studies suggest it actually decreases knowledge.

We learn from print, whether off of dead trees or pixels. But the audience continues to shrink. Think of the Wicked Witch in Oz. "I'm melting, I'm melting." That's the news audience you hear, or maybe just the anguished sobs from people who run news organizations.

And as it shrinks, it becomes more partisan. Hence the emergence of Fox, the changes at CNN, the recent success of MSNBC. What will people know? Very damn little, except that they hate the other guys, as they watch their favorite hosts set up and knock down straw men that represent the other side of the partisan divide.

Do people even care about local news? Stuff in their own neighborhood, their own town? I'm in the middle of analysis of eight years of data to answer just that very question, because that's the only niche newspapers still own.

No comments: