Study Finds Trouble in News

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There is a vicious cycle in the news business today. Declining audiences have led to newsroom cutbacks and other "financial fixes," which "reinforce the public's suspicion that news organizations are motivated more by economics than public service."

That's according to a massive study of the state of newsgathering released by the Project for Excellence in Journalism and funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

"Many major news institutions have changed their product in a way that costs less to produce while still attracting an audience. The public senses this and says it doesn't like it," the study authors conclude.

Citing the uptick in journalists' trust rating following 9/11, the study says that to break the cycle will "probably take a major change in press behavior, one that will make the news more relevant and customizable and at the same time suggest...that the news industry is more concerned with the public good than Americans suspect."

On the local TV front, the study says stations are investing mostly in government-mandated technological upgrades rather than improving the product. It also says the Internet has become a major threat, saying it mirrors a local TV station's major assetts: "immediacy, availability and the ability to update." The answer, it says, is convergence and product improvement. "The industry seems disposed to do the convergence," says the study, "but there is too little evidence that it is committed to improvements."

Broadcast and Cable TV networks are experiencing a bit of an identity crisis. The broadcast networks face a decision about whether to target a dwindling audience with their traditional formats, or morph into something else. The major cable news nets appear to be staking out ideological territory, though it may be rather the beginnings of targeting niche demos like high-income consumers or younger viewers.

With Fox targetting a conservative/populist audience, the study says, MSNBC may try to stake out the younger demo and CNN to further court the upscale audience or the serious news junkie, though it says the BBC could give it a run for that audience if it launches a U.S. news service.

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