Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Selectively Covering the End of Journalism

The big TV news networks love talking about the economic struggles facing newspapers. You get to drag out all that old video of printing presses and cool old movies like The Front Page.

But when it comes to TV news facing similar problems, not so much coverage. But let me warn you, I have some methodological issues to deal with after the next graph.

A NYTimes article about a study by the fine folks at Annenberg finds lots and lots of newspaper coverage about the struggles of newspapers, and lots and lots of TV coverage about the struggles of newspapers, but when it comes to covering TV news and its problems the results kinda fall apart. Kinda. The sampled newspapers apparently (I haven't seen the actual report) had 900 stories about the struggles of papers and 95 stories about the struggles of TV news. TV news had 38 stories about the struggles of newspapers and a measly six about their own problems.

Now it's methodology time. If my math is right, that means 90 percent of newspaper articles on problems of the two media were about papers. That also means 86 percent of TV news stories about the two media are about newspapers. Without cranking up my SPSS and doing a little chi-square analysis, I'm fairly sure there's no statistically significant difference here. Also the press release has, it seems, slightly different numbers than in the NYTimes article (I can't locate the original PR release, but this blog has some text attributed to the PR people).

So, much ado about nothing?


First off, if the numbers are right, the proportions are about the same or at least close enough to warrant concern. Second, newspaper struggles are simply a better story, one full of history and democracy and a helluva hook with the shutdowns at major metro papers in Seattle, etc. And yeah, the TV hairdos don't want to spend time talking about the decline of viewers, and that says something about them and their willingness (or lack thereof) to examine their own shops.

In terms of what people know, this is obvious: people know newspapers are failing, given the extensive coverage by all media, but there's a good chance they don't know that TV news suffers from many of the same problems. It's time TV news took a hard, honest look at itself rather than running all that video of printing presses.

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