From Town Criers to Bloggers: How Will Journalism Survive the Internet Age? #544505-00004

Submission Number:
544505-00004
Commenter:
Limor Peer
State:
CT
Initiative Name:
From Town Criers to Bloggers: How Will Journalism Survive the Internet Age?

“The Choice Gap: Journalists’ and Consumers’ Online News Priorities” (an academic study of supply and demand of online news). During most of the 20th century, American news organizations were characterized by strong economic performance, journalists with professional values favoring public affairs content and a disdain for their audiences, and a separation between the editorial and commercial logics of the enterprise—despite the perception that there is a gap between the interests of journalists and consumers. The recent erosion in the market position of traditional players has led to a stronger impact of a commercial logic on editorial pursuits and more attention to the audience’s interests. A trend towards the softening of news has been seen as an attempt by media firms to counter their market decline and narrow the perceived gap between what they produce and what their audience seems to want. In a ground-breaking study we directly evaluate news supply and demand by comparing top news choices made by journalists with top news choices made by consumers. We do so by examining the most prominent news stories on four online news sites as well as the stories most often chosen by consumers on the same sites: chicagotribune.com, seattlepi.newsource.com, cnn.com, and news.yahoo.com. The stories selected by journalists are the ten most prominently displayed stories on the home page and the stories selected by consumers are identified by examining the ten most-clicked stories on each site. A total of 5,040 stories were analyzed. Our results show that, (a) journalists’ choices are substantively “soft” in terms of what the stories are about but not in terms of how they are told. That is, journalists showcase stories about topics such as sports, crime, entertainment, technology, and weather more often than stories about public affairs (including the activity of government, elected officials, and political candidates, the economy and business developments, and the state or international organizations). At the same time, these stories, relatively speaking, tend to adhere to the format of hard news (i.e., emphasize the important facts and often told in a impersonal, detached way); (b) there is a gap between journalists’ choices and consumers’ choices, more in terms of the subject of the stories than in terms of how these stories are told. In comparison with journalists’ choices, consumers choices reflect less of a taste for public affairs stories, with no discernable preference for any particular writing style. These patterns are enhanced when we conduct a more stringent analysis by comparing stories exclusively chosen by journalists and consumers (i.e., not stories chosen by both), signaling that when left to their own devices, each group has distinct preferences with little overlap. In addition, an analysis of stories that appear on multiple sites suggests that this is a more general phenomenon—stories chosen by journalists and appearing on more than one site were more likely to be about public affairs; the opposite is true for stories chosen by consumers. This study has implications for the evolution of large companies and for the state of our democracy: (a) if consumer behavior became a central factor shaping journalistic story selection, the premise that the media have a significant degree of autonomy in setting the agenda would be challenged; (b) consumers’ preferences for nonpublic affairs stories belie notions of a well-informed citizenry often present in the discourse about citizens’ role in media making; (c) the prevalence of non-public affairs news, the possibility that this trend might intensify, and the potential of strong consumer involvement in the production of news also raise questions about the ability of media companies to play a strong watchdog role in the future.