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Survey: Mobile News & Paying Online

By Tom Rosenstiel and Amy Mitchell of the Pew Research Center’s Project For Excellence in Journalism and Lee Rainie and Kristen Purcell of the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, in partnership with the Knight Foundation

Summary of Findings

Local news is going mobile. Nearly half of all American adults (47%) report that they get at least some local news and information on their cellphone or tablet computer.

What they seek out most on mobile platforms is information that is practical and in real time: 42% of mobile device owners report getting weather updates on their phones or tablets; 37% say they get material about restaurants or other local businesses. These consumers are less likely to use their mobile devices for news about local traffic, public transportation, general news alerts or to access retail coupons or discounts.

One of the newest forms of on-the-go local news consumption, mobile applications, are just beginning to take hold among mobile device owners.

Compared with other adults, these mobile local news consumers are younger, live in higher income households, are newer residents of their communities, live in nonrural areas, and tend to be parents of minor children.  Adults who get local news and information on mobile devices are more likely than others to feel they can have on impact on their communities, more likely to use a variety of media platforms, feel more plugged into the media environment than they did a few years ago, and are more likely to use social media:

Tablets and smartphones have also brought with them news applications or “apps.” One-quarter (24%) of mobile local news consumers report having an app that helps them get information or news about their local community.  That equates to 13% of all device owners and 11% of the total American adult population.  Thus while nearly 5 in 10 get local news on mobile devices, just 1 in 10 use apps to do so. Call it the app gap.

These mobile app users skew young and Hispanic. They are also much more active news consumers than other adults, using more sources regularly and “participating” in local news by doing such things as sharing or posting links to local stories, commenting on or tagging local news content, or contributing their own local content online.

Many news organizations are looking to mobile platforms to provide new ways to generate revenue in local markets. The survey suggests there is a long way to go before that happens. Currently, only 10% of adults who use mobile apps to connect to local news and information pay for those apps. This amounts to just 1% of all adults.

When it comes to payments for news more broadly, 36% of adults say they pay for local news content in some form – be it for their local print newspaper, for an app on their mobile device or for access to special content online. The vast majority of those who pay for local news, 31% in all, are paying for local print newspaper subscriptions and only a fraction are paying for apps or for access online to local material.

One question in the news industry is whether the willingness to pay for online content would grow if people faced the prospect of their local media not surviving otherwise. Pressed on the value of online access to their local newspaper, 23% of survey respondents say they would pay $5 a month to get full access to local newspaper content online. When asked if they would pay $10 per month, 18% of adults say yes.  Both figures are substantially higher than the percentage of adults (5%) who currently pay for online local news content. Nonetheless, roughly three-quarters say they would not pay anything.

Asked the value of their local newspaper, respondents are divided.  Just under a third (28%) say the loss of the local newspaper would have a major impact on their ability to keep up with local information. Another 30% say it would have a minor impact. But the plurality — 39% — say the loss of the newspaper would have no impact.

This survey is being released as a part of the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s 2011 State of the News Media Report. These results come from a national phone survey of 2,251 American adults (age 18 or more) in English and Spanish. Some 750 of the interviews were conducted on cellphone. The margin of error for the full sample is +/- 2 percentage points.

Part 1: Mobile news takes off

The rise of mobile digital devices has already altered the environment of local news and information. Traditional news organizations and other community-based information providers are trying to respond to audience interest with pervasive, portable, real-time local information. To understand this changing information environment, the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and Internet & American Life Project conducted a national survey in partnership with the Knight Foundation. The survey used both landline and cellphones. The survey was conducted in English and Spanish from January 12 to 25, 2011, and involved 2,251 adults ages 18 and older. Our aim was to explore the role that cellphones and tablet computers play in people’s patterns of consuming and contributing to community information. A major share of the funding for the survey came from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation; its senior leaders participated in constructing the survey and assessing the data.

Cellphone usage has already penetrated deep into American society. Fully 84% of American adults own a cellphone, a figure that has remained relatively stable since mid-2008.  Now tablets are spreading quickly as well. Indeed, the survey finds that tablet computers such as the iPad, which have existed less than a year, have become one of the most quickly adopted consumer goods of the recent era; tablet penetration almost doubled in just four months’ time, from 4% to 7% now. (As virtually all iPad owners are also cellphone users, the total population of mobile device owners (cellphone and/or tablet users) is 84%.

Two-thirds of cellphone users take advantage of mobile phone features such as texting, e-mailing, web browsing and “apps” (software applications that allow mobile device users to play games, access web content and access media or data). Only a third of Americans now say they use their cellphones just for phone calls, according to the survey.

Some local news goes mobile

The majority of those of who own a cellphone or tablet computer (56%) get some kind of local news and information on their mobile devices. That equates to 47% of all adults.

Adults tend to use mobile devices to get local news and information that serve an immediate need. We asked specifically about the kinds of local information obtained through mobile devices. The most sought-after material was local weather. About 4 in 10 mobile phone and tablet owners (42%) use their mobile device to access local weather information.  That represents 36% of all American adults.

The next biggest category among cellphone and tablet owners was information on restaurants or other local businesses (37%). General local news came next (30%), followed by other news such as up-to-the minute information of local sports scores (24%) and the latest local traffic and transportation (22%).

Mobile access to coupons and discounts from local businesses, on the other hand, has yet to be used widely. The same is true for local news alerts.

Respondents were also asked a separate series of questions about what sources they rely on most for a wide range of local news areas. This list of areas asked about included crime, community events, schools and education, politics and cultural events and social services.  Just a small fraction cited a mobile device as a primary source for any of these. Thus, for now, the data indicate that mobile devices are mainly a supplemental platform for local news and information, not a primary source.

Who consumes local information on the go?

Adults who consume local news on the go reflect many of the same traits as owners of mobile devices: They are disproportionately young, affluent, highly educated and live in non-rural communities.  This group also tilts towards newer residents of their communities.

Younger users are also more likely than others to use their mobile devices for specific types of local news and information. The one exception is among those receiving local news alerts sent by text or e-mail to mobile devices.  Here, mobile device-owning adults age 30-49 are slightly ahead of those 18-29. Still, the results suggest that if these patterns hold as people age, mobile is likely to become a much more powerful factor in news consumption.

In addition, among cell/tablet owners, those with higher household incomes and higher levels of educational attainment are more likely to use their mobile devices to get these kinds of local information.  Overall, 63% of college graduates who own cellphones or tablets get local news and information on their mobile devices, compared with just 37% of cell/tablet users who have not completed high school.  Likewise, 7 in 10 cell/tablet owners (70%) with household incomes of at least $75,000 get local news on their mobile devices, compared with just over half of cell/tablet users with incomes below that level (54%). 

Mobile users are plugged into their communities in special ways

Those who use their cellphones or tablet computers to get local news are more enthusiastic in some respects than others about their communities and the role they play there. They are also more likely to feel that technology has made news consumption easier, and to take advantage of a wide range of media sources.

Local news apps

The growth in tablet and smart phone use has brought with it a growing use of news applications, or apps.  The adoption of apps, however, is not as rapid as tablets themselves. In the current survey, just over 1 in 10 mobile device owners (13%) report having an app that helps them get information or news about their local community.  That equates to 11% of the total American adult population, and represents one-quarter (24%) of mobile local news consumers.

Some 89% of adults who have an app that helps them access local news or information got the app for free.  Even among these avid local information consumers, just 10% paid for the app on their cellphone or tablet computer.  That amounts to 1% of the entire adult population. There are no notable demographic patterns in distinguishing those who pay for local apps versus those who download them for free.  (See more on paying for local news in Section II of this report.)

In some ways, the quarter of mobile connectors who have apps for local news and information resemble early adopters, and in other ways they do not.  For instance, while they skew younger than other cell owners and other adults in general, which is typical of early tech adoption, they also are more likely to be Hispanic than other cell owners.  And while the most educated and highest earners often lead the way with new technologies, the pattern of local news app adoption across income and education categories is not as stark or consistent as is normally the case.

One interesting feature of local app users is that they are not necessarily more interested in news in general, or in local news specifically.  In fact, they are no more likely than other adults to say they enjoy keeping up with news “a lot” or say that they follow local news closely most of the time, even when nothing important is happening.

One interesting feature of local app users is that they are not necessarily more interested in news in general, or in local news specifically.  In fact, they are no more likely than other adults to say they enjoy keeping up with news “a lot” or say that they follow local news closely most of the time, even when nothing important is happening.

Part 2: Paying for local news

For news organizations, one of the most significant elements of mobile technology is its potential to offer new revenue opportunities. Until now, news producers have struggled to generate revenue in the digital sphere to support local news. A variety of factors have contributed to this — from the fact that small local businesses may not be as quick to adapt to online advertising to the inability of news organizations to charge users for content online. Many in the news and information business hope that mobile will change that. Mobile offers news firms the chance to offer advertisers geo-targeted ads based on a user’s immediate location. Some media executives also believe that tablets may improve the consumer’s interface with advertising by making it work more seamlessly with other content – as opposed to the way that display advertising on websites often annoys news consumers. The apps available on mobile devices also offer news companies what the browser environment has not — a chance to charge subscription fees for content.

In addition, local news is a largely untapped and undeveloped market for news companies. Many local advertisers such as restaurant owners or small-business people are not yet online. At the same time, technology companies like Google and Facebook are moving more heavily into soliciting and enabling local advertising.

The value of local news

To adjust to these changing circumstances, many news organizations are focusing new energy and resources on local news. They have reoriented staff away from national and international issues in order to expand operations in their own communities.  One model of revenue generation that is garnering particular attention is the paid local app model.  The local news apps used by 13% of adults who own mobile devices, or 11% of all adults, may encompass a wide range of applications, including locally focused news organizations, apps for broader sites likes Craigslist that provide online classified ads organized by community, and even more specialized apps such as the Girl Scouts’ Cookie Locator App, which helps users find the nearest location to buy Girl Scout cookies.

Currently, only 10% of adults use mobile apps to connect to local news and information have paid for those apps, according to our survey.  This represents only 1% of the total U.S. adult population.  The vast majority access their local apps for free.

This reflects a broader trend captured in the survey. A series of questions measuring paid local news content revealed that just 36% of adults pay for any local news content.  For the vast majority, that comes in the form of newspaper subscriptions.  One in three adults (33%) report paying for a local newspaper subscription; just 5% report paying for local news in some other form such as a blog or other online venue.

Could those numbers increase if circumstances change? To find out, the survey asked about the willingness of people to pay for an online subscription to their local newspaper if the paper otherwise could not survive. People were asked “If the only way to get full access to your local newspaper online on your computer, cell phone or other device was to pay a … monthly subscription fee, would you pay it or not?”  While currently 5% of adults report paying for local news content online, nearly a quarter (23%) say that they would be willing to pay at least a small amount if that were the only way to access their local newspaper.

The survey also probed to what extent price is a factor. Half of the sample was asked if they would pay $10, and half of the sample was asked if they would pay $5. Price did make some difference. While 23%, said they would be willing to pay $5 per month, that figure dropped to 18% among respondents who were asked if they would pay $10 per month.  In both questions, roughly three-quarters of adults say they would not be willing to pay for online access to their local newspaper, even if it was the only way to access the newspaper’s content.  As one might expect, those who already pay for local news are significantly more likely to say they would pay a fee to access their local newspaper online.

In what may be a positive sign to news organizations, adults who consume their news on mobile devices are more likely than other adults to say they would be willing to pay a fee.   Mobile news consumers are almost twice as likely as other adults to say they would pay a $5 monthly fee for access to their local newspaper online (30% vs. 17%).  And among local app users, 38% are willing to pay that amount.  There is less enthusiasm among mobile news consumers and local app users when the proposed fee is $10 per month.

The demographics of this cohort willing to pay did not stand out as very different from the population overall. College graduates and adults with household incomes of at least $75,000 are slightly more likely than the least educated and lowest income adults to say they would be willing to pay a monthly fee.  And African-American (27%) and Hispanic (27%) adults are slightly more likely than white adults (18%) to be willing to pay a fee.

The perceived importance of local newspapers

The flip side of the question of who would pay online and how much, perhaps, is how much people might miss their local newspaper if it were to disappear. By a small margin, more people would seriously miss the paper if it died than said they would be willing to pay for it online. In general, though, respondents were split on the whether their ability to keep up with what is happening in their communities would be affected.

When asked, “If your local newspaper no longer existed, would that have a major impact, minor impact, or no impact on your ability to keep up with information and news about their community?”, the responses were as follows:

Those who currently pay for news would miss the paper more. Close to half of those who currently pay for local news (43%) say loss of their paper would have a major impact on their ability to keep up with what is happening in their communities (not surprising as most who currently pay are paying for their local paper).  Still, one in five of those who pay for local news (21%) say that losing their local newspaper would have no impact on their ability to keep up with local news and information.

How about those early mobile adapters? They would be far less bothered. Fully 42% said losing their local paper would have no impact on their ability to keep up with community news, and a third more said they the impact would be just minor.

Who pays for local news?

Who make up the people who currently pay for local news in some form or another? They are different from others in their community in some important ways. They are more likely than nonpayers to rate their community as excellent and to know their neighbors.  They are also more likely to enjoy keeping up with news generally and to follow all kinds of news, including international and national news, closely most of the time.  And while they are more likely to use a wider variety of news sources (40% use six or more on a regular basis, compared with 32% of other adults), they are also more likely to have a favorite local news source.

Demographically, they are disproportionately white, female and older, and have higher household incomes and higher levels of educational attainment, and are more likely to be longtime community residents when compared with those who do not currently pay. Paying for local news is also much more common among adults who live in suburban or rural communities than among those who live in urban centers. These differences are almost entirely a reflection of the differences between who does, and does not, subscribe to their local newspaper.


Survey questions

 

 

Local News Survey 2011

Final Topline

1/28/11

Data for Jan. 12-25, 2011

Princeton Survey Research Associates International

for the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, the Project for Excellence in Journalism, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

 

 

Sample: n= 2,251 national adults, age 18 and older, including 750 cell phone interviews

Interviewing dates: 01.12-25.2011

Margin of error is plus or minus 2 percentage points for results based on Total [n=2,251]

Margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points for results based on internet users [n=1,762]

Margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points for results based on cellphone users [n=1,964]

Margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points for results based on Form A [n=1,087]

Margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points for results based on Form B [n=1,164]

Q10 Thinking now just about your local newspaper… If your local newspaper no longer existed, would that have a MAJOR impact, a MINOR impact, or NO impact on your ability to keep up with information and news about your local community?

 

%

28

Would have MAJOR impact

30

Would have MINOR impact

39

Would have NO impact

1

(DO NOT READ) No local newspaper

1

(DO NOT READ) Don’t know

1

(DO NOT READ) Refused

Q11 If the only way to get full access to your local newspaper ONLINE on your computer, cell phone or other device was to pay a [FORM A: $10 / FORM B: $5] monthly subscription fee, would you pay it or not?

 

%

20

Yes, would pay monthly subscription fee

76

No, would not

*

Already pay fee for local online newspaper (VOL.)

*

Already get print version and online access is included in cost (VOL.)

*

Local newspaper not available online (VOL.)

*

No local newspaper (VOL.)

2

Don’t know

1

Refused

Q11b How much do you pay for online access to your local newspaper? [OPEN-END; RECORD DOLLAR AMOUNT AND WHETHER FEE IS PAID WEEKLY, MONTHLY, ANNUALLY]

Based on those who already pay a fee for a local online newspaper [N=5]

 

%

100

Gave answer

0

Refused

Q21 Do you ever use your cellphone or tablet computer to… [INSERT; RANDOMIZE]?

Based on those who use their cell phone for more than just phone calls or have a tablet computer [N=1,181]

 

YES, do this

NO, do not do this

(vol.) device can’t do this

don’t know

refused

Go online for information or news about your local community

45

55

*

0

*

Get information about local traffic or public transportation

33

67

*

0

0

Check local sports scores or get local sports updates

35

65

0

0

0

Check local weather reports

62

37

*

0

*

Find local restaurants or other local businesses

55

45

*

*

0

Get or use coupons or discounts from local stores or businesses

28

71

*

*

0

 

Q22 Do you ever get news alerts about your local community sent to your phone by text or e-mail?

Based on those who use their cellphone for more than just phone calls [N=1,147]

 

 

%

23

Yes

77

No

*

Don’t know

*

Refused

Q23 On your cellphone or tablet computer, do you happen to have any software applications, or “apps,” that help you get information or news about your local community?

Based on those who use their cell phone for more than just phone calls or have a tablet computer [N=1,181]

 

 

%

19

Yes

79

No

1

Don’t know

*

Refused

Q24 Have you PAID to download any apps that give you access to local information, or do you only have free local apps?

Based on those who have apps on their cellphone or tablet computer to get local information [N=218]

 

 

%

10

Paid for local app(s)

89

Local app(s) free

1

Don’t know

0

Refused

Q25 Do you currently have a PAID subscription for delivery of a local print newspaper?

 

 

%

32

Yes

67

No

*

Don’t know

*

Refused

Q26 Apart from a paid subscription for delivery of a local print newspaper, do you currently PAY to get local information or news from any other source, including a website, blog, or other online source?

 

 

%

5

Yes

93

No

1

Pay for internet access and get news online (VOL.)

1

Pay for cable television (VOL.)

*

Don’t know

*

Refused

 

Methodology

This report is based on the findings of a survey on Americans’ use of the internet. The results in this report are based on data from telephone interviews conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International from Jan. 12 to 25, 2011, among a sample of 2,251 adults, age 18 and older. Telephone interviews were conducted in English and Spanish by landline (1,501) and cellphone (750, including 332 without a landline phone). For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the error attributable to sampling is plus or minus 2.4 percentage points. For results based Internet users (n=1,762), the margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2.7 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting telephone surveys may introduce some error or bias into the findings of opinion polls.

A combination of landline and cellphone random digit dial (RDD) samples was used to represent all adults in the continental United States who have access to either a landline or cellphone. Both samples were provided by Survey Sampling International, LLC (SSI) according to PSRAI specifications. Numbers for the landline sample were selected with probabilities in proportion to their share of listed telephone households from active blocks (area code + exchange + two-digit block number) that contained three or more residential directory listings. The cellphone sample was not list-assisted, but was drawn through a systematic sampling from dedicated wireless 100-blocks and shared service 100-blocks with no directory-listed landline numbers.

New sample was released daily and was kept in the field for at least five days. The sample was released in replicates, which are representative subsamples of the larger population. This ensures that complete call procedures were followed for the entire sample. At least seven attempts were made to complete an interview at a sampled telephone number. The calls were staggered over times of day and days of the week to maximize the chances of making contact with a potential respondent. Each number received at least one daytime call in an attempt to find someone available. For the landline sample, interviewers asked to speak with the youngest adult male or female currently at home based on a random rotation. If no male/female was available, interviewers asked to speak with the youngest adult of the other gender. For the cellphone sample, interviews were conducted with the person who answered the phone. Interviewers verified that the person was an adult and in a safe place before administering the survey. Cellphone sample respondents were offered a post-paid cash incentive for their participation. All interviews completed on any given day were considered to be the final sample for that day.

Weighting is generally used in survey analysis to compensate for sample designs and patterns of nonresponse that might bias results. A two-stage weighting procedure was used to weight this dual-frame sample. The first-stage weight is the product of two adjustments made to the data – a Probability of Selection Adjustment (PSA) and a Phone Use Adjustment (PUA). The PSA corrects for the fact that respondents in the landline sample have different probabilities of being sampled depending on how many adults live in the household. The PUA corrects for the overlapping landline and cellular sample frames.

The second stage of weighting balances sample demographics to population parameters. The sample is balanced by form to match national population parameters for sex, age, education, race, Hispanic origin, region (U.S. Census definitions), population density and telephone usage. The white, non-Hispanic subgroup is also balanced on age, education and region. The basic weighting parameters came from a special analysis of the Census Bureau’s 2010 Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC) that included all households in the continental United States. The population density parameter was derived from Census 2000 data. The cellphone usage parameter came from an analysis of the January-June 2010 National Health Interview Survey. [

1. Blumberg SJ, Luke JV. Wireless substitution: Early release of estimates from the National Health Interview Survey, January-June 2010. National Center for Health Statistics. December 2010.]

Following is the full disposition of all sampled telephone numbers:

Table 2:Sample Disposition

Landline

Cellphone

29,846

13,498

Total Numbers Dialed

 

 

 

1,365

270

Nonresidential

1,425

28

Computer/Fax

2

—-

Cellphone

13,829

4,988

Other not working

1,664

152

Additional projected not working

11,561

8,060

Working numbers

38.7%

59.7%

Working Rate

 

 

 

555

51

No Answer/Busy

2,815

1,943

Voice Mail

60

11

Other Non-Contact

8,131

6,055

Contacted numbers

70.3%

75.1%

Contact Rate

 

 

 

514

780

Callback

6,018

3,995

Refusal

1,599

1,280

Cooperating numbers

19.7%

21.1%

Cooperation Rate

 

 

 

53

36

Language Barrier

—-

478

Child’s cellphone

1,546

766

Eligible numbers

96.7%

59.8%

Eligibility Rate

 

 

 

45

16

Break-off

1,501

750

Completes

97.1%

97.9%

Completion Rate

 

 

 

13.4%

15.5%

Response Rate

The disposition reports all of the sampled telephone numbers ever dialed from the original telephone number samples. The response rate estimates the fraction of all eligible respondents in the sample that were ultimately interviewed. At PSRAI it is calculated by taking the product of three component rates:

Contact rate – the proportion of working numbers where a request for interview was made

Cooperation rate – the proportion of contacted numbers where a consent for interview was at least initially obtained, versus those refused

Completion rate – the proportion of initially cooperating and eligible interviews that were completed

Thus the response rate for the landline sample was 13.4 percent. The response rate for the cellphone sample was 15.5 percent.

 

 

 

Demographically, they are disproportionately white, female and older, and have higher household incomes and higher levels of educational attainment, and are more likely to be longtime community residents when compared with those who do not currently pay. Paying for local news is also much more common among adults who live in suburban or rural communities than among those who live in urban centers. These differences are almost entirely a reflection of the differences between who does, and does not, subscribe to their local newspaper.

Why U.S. Newspapers Suffer More than Others

Laura Houston Santhanam and Tom Rosenstiel of the Project for Excellence in Journalism

While print newspapers everywhere face difficult challenges in the future, newspapers in the United States today are suffering more acutely than those virtually anywhere else in the world. In sharp contrast with the U.S. situation, overall print newspaper circulation worldwide has dipped only slightly so far in 2010. Revenues are expected to rise, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Print newspapers are suffering declining readership and revenue in most of the developed world, such as in Europe and Australia, though in general the problems are not as severe as in the United States, particularly when it comes to revenue.

But in much of the developing world, print newspapers are thriving, in some cases dramatically.

The distinction between whether a nation’s newspapers are suffering or flourishing depends in broad terms on whether the country is enjoying increases in population, education, literacy and income levels or is an already developed country with a mature newspaper industry, though some other factors appear to be relevant as well.

The problems are greatest, generally, in developed countries where newspapers already are consumed by large percentages of the population and where there are a lot of media providing news and information. Print newspapers are thriving, meanwhile, in countries with untapped and emerging population segments. In some parts of the world, such as India, reading a print newspaper is a prestigious activity, in much the same way that it was for immigrants a century ago in the United States.

In most developing countries print newspapers “are still growing,” said Robert Picard, media economist and director of research at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford. But he warned that their gains may be temporary as those countries shift to new technologies. “Hopefully, they’ll take notice of what’s happening in our markets, and they’ll try to transform themselves.”

First, some basic numbers: In the United States, newspaper circulation fell by 10.6% daily and 7.1% on Sundays in the six months from March to September 30, 2009, compared with a year earlier, according to Audit Bureau of Circulations data. Europe saw a smaller drop, 5.6% during calendar year 2009 from the year before, according to data from the World Association of Newspapers’ 2010 World Press Trends report; Australia and Oceania fell 1.5%.

In Africa, by contrast, circulation in 2009 rose across the continent by 4.8%. Asia saw circulation gains of 1.03%, though the gains were concentrated at higher rates in places like India (nearly 5%). Worldwide in 2009, print newspaper circulation dipped 0.8% from a year earlier, (WAN, 2010).  Yet overall, print newspaper circulation today remains up 5.7% worldwide from where it was five years earlier.

Determining Factors

Five factors seem to be at play in determining the health of a country’s newspapers or the severity of their problems.

The most important, and most obvious, is that in many of these nations or markets, rising literacy rates dovetail with growing disposable income to create millions of potential new readers. India’s literacy rate, for example, has grown from roughly one-third (35%) of the population in 1976 to 82% in 2009, according to Indian government estimates, (WAN, 2010). “There’s a hunger among Indians to know,” Bhaskara Rao, director of the Centre for Media Studies in New Delhi, told Agence France Presse in 2010.

Executives in India say reading a newspaper is considered something to aspire to instead of a throwback to a bygone era.  “Anyone who can read or write is still looked at with  a bit of awe” in parts of India, Rajesh Kalra, the editor of the Times of India’s Times Internet division, told The New York Times in 2008. The paper boasted a circulation of 3.5 million in 2008, 10% higher than it did a year earlier, and the paper planned to launch in new cities. Once people learn to read, they are proud of their new skill, Kalra said, and “the first thing you want to do is be seen to be reading a newspaper.”

The image echoes back to the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when papers were aimed explicitly at European immigrants, who felt similarly about newspapers and often held reading groups to have neighbors who knew English read the paper out loud. The newspaper comic strip was invented as a way for immigrants with limited language skills to find something in the paper they could follow. The term yellow journalism comes from one such comic strip, “The Yellow Kid,” about the adventures of an orphaned immigrant child, a metaphor for how immigrants in general felt in America.

The number of Indian dailies (not including free papers) rose by 44% from 2005 to 2009. Circulation during that period rose 40% (more than 8% in 2008 alone and 5% in 2009). The amount spent on advertising is growing, too, by nearly 19% in 2008 and 4.5% in 2009.

There are still signs in India’s newspapers face problems that afflict other modern societies. The percentage of readers who read the paper everyday is declining; the growth is in casual or occasional readers. Younger people who can read prefer the Internet. Costs are rising dramatically: Newsprint jumped in price by 50% in 2008, softening since then. But rising population, rising literacy rates and rising income levels are enough to mask those problems, or delay their reckoning.

“We do see a big potential in emerging markets,” John Ridding, chief executive of the London-based Financial Times told The New York Times in 2008. One other factor in India: The expected profit margin of newspapers is much smaller than in the United States, averaging around 10%, whereas U.S. newspapers in their better days expected double that.

A second factor, intertwined with economic development, is the state of the online penetration in a country. If the nation is not connected with broadband, and smaller levels of the adult population are online, the print industry is less threatened by new technology. According to the National Book Trust-National Council of Applied Economic Research’s National Youth Readership Survey, for instance, fewer than 4% of people between ages 13 and 35 in India have access to the Internet. However, there are several European countries, particularly in Scandinavia, where high levels of Internet use continue to coexist with high levels of newspaper readership.

The third factor is political. Countries with either evolving democracies or at least evolving capitalist systems tend to drive newspaper growth, which helps explain why Hungary (6.9%) Kosovo (12.5%) and Russia (9.3%) are also on the list of countries where newspapers are launching in bigger numbers, helping advertising revenue grow. Volatile as it is, Afghanistan also saw its paid daily newspaper titles jump 12.5% in 2009.

Still a fourth factor affecting the health of the newspaper industry is government subsidy. In several countries, the government offers substantial subsidies to help the newspaper industry thrive as a matter of public policy. The amount and nature of the subsidy can vary widely, and it is difficult to pin down how widespread the subsidies are—they are being scaled back in some places and increased in others. Ireland, for instance, has devoted hundreds of thousands of Euros per year to subsidize Gaelic-language press. Austria has pumped millions in recently to reduce distribution costs and to train journalists. Belarus spent $90 million on state media, but nothing on independent press. France has thrown a life raft to its newspaper industry lately, following up on advice that it work with its printers union to cut costs, and has discussed tax breaks for media innovations. To a degree, subsidies may mask the effects of changing technology. Some news industry executives also worry, however, that subsidies may inhibit innovation. In difficult times, they have argued, the instinct is to look to the government as the easiest and most risk free way of filling gaps.

A fifth factor is the economic structure of each country’s newspaper industry. American newspapers are more dependent on advertising, and the collapse of particular advertising sectors have affected them more.

The elements vary, however, by country, which makes some brief country case studies useful.

United States

The U.S. newspaper publishing market has shrunk more dramatically in recent years than in much of the world as an ongoing downturn in newspapers met the global economic recession. From 2007 to 2009, U.S. newspapers saw an estimated 30% drop in revenues from online and offline circulation and advertising, outpacing other developed nations. By comparison, the United Kingdom saw a 21% drop during the same period, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. One reason U.S. papers have suffered more is they are more heavily dependent on advertising than papers in most other parts of the world. For instance, globally, advertising makes up 57% of overall newspaper revenues, while circulation makes up 43%, (OECD, 2010). By contrast, U.S. newspapers on average generate 73% of total revenue from advertising, selling the print copy for less to maximize readership they can deliver to local advertisers. To complicate matters, several U.S. newspaper companies in the last decade acquired heavy debt burdens, including McClatchy Company, Lee Enterprises and Freedom Communications. The much publicized bankruptcy proceedings into which several companies fell (including Tribune Company and Philadelphia Newspapers) generally reflect the difficulty of corporate parents to make bank payments rather than that the papers themselves are losing money.  This is another difference with papers in other countries. “In the U.S., many companies were actually making money, but they couldn’t afford their debt. You haven’t seen that in Europe,” Picard said.

This means that the decoupling of advertising from news created by the advent of the web and afflicting U.S. papers hasn’t had quite such a devastating effect on the immediate economics of European papers. This “decoupling,” comes from several factors. First, free classified sites like Craigslist.org, or specialized classified sites like Realtor.com and Monster.com are wiping out classified advertising from U.S. print newspapers. Second, changes in American retailing, led by the rise of Big Box Stores like WalMart, affected newspapers in dramatic ways. These stores, which discount everything everyday and have low-price guarantees, do not tend to rely on print advertising, which is focused heavily on sales and promotions. WalMart thus advertises almost exclusively on television—the primary medium for image advertising. European retailing has not yet changed as dramatically as American retailing has.

Most American papers are also local. Of the 1,400 U.S. dailies, only three circulate nationally in print (the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and USA Today). The rest serve local communities, and all but a handful are monopoly dailies in those communities. This is a primary explanation for the non-ideological nature of the U.S. print press and helps explain their dependence on advertising. But it also may inhibit their ability to raise their circulation rates with readers who might be more willing to support partisan press with high newsstand prices, according to some experts. “It’s hard to be radical with American newspapers because you don’t want to disturb the core of newspapers, but for newspapers that aspire to be national, there’s a huge potential,” said David Levy, director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford.

Europe

Most industry indicators suggest that, at the moment, European newspapers taken as a whole are not suffering as severely as those in the United States. But there are challenges. Between 2007 and 2009, for instance, newspaper revenue in most European countries shrank. Worst hit were the United Kingdom (-21%), Greece (-20%) and Italy (-18%), (OECD, 2010). Several factors have made things somewhat easier than in the United States, however. Again, a more limited reliance on advertising is one factor. Another is that many European newspapers are family owned and cushioned by private money during tough times. When the recession occurred, European newspaper companies felt the squeeze, but were still able to stay afloat and generally were not burdened by high debt. A third factor is that in many Northern European countries newspaper reading is  significantly higher than in the United States historically, which has provided more cushion. In 2008, some nations even reported a small but notable increase in the percent of adults who claim to have recently read a newspaper, compared with previous years, including Iceland (96%), Portugal (85%), Switzerland (80%), Ireland (58%), Poland (58%) and Belgium (54%), (OECD, 2010). Even in the United Kingdom, where just 33% of adults report regularly reading a daily newspaper, that number is stable. In the United States, by contract, the reach is declining. U.S. newspapers had a daily reach of 45% for daily copies and 48% for Sunday editions, down from 55% overall daily newspaper reach in 2001 (OECD, 2010).

Those figures are borne out by circulation data. Circulation slipped in Europe by 5.6% in 2009 from the previous year but was not as dramatic as the 10.6% drop reported in the United States during that time. In Europe, newspaper sales, either at newsstands or by subscriptions, account for roughly 50-60% of all revenue, with advertising sales making up the remaining revenue (between 40-50%).

One interesting feature of the European newspaper industry is the prevalence of free newspapers, in which all revenue is advertising based. According to Rasmus Nielsen, research fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, free newspapers in some countries represent as much as 40% of total newspaper circulation. Prior to the global recession, circulation of free newspapers had been particularly robust. In Russia, for instance, it grew by 523% from 2005 to 2009. In Romania, it rose 1,289% during that period. The recession seemed to blunt free circulation, in some countries more than others (World Association of Newspapers, 2010)

Some experts believe that more problems are coming. Cable, satellite and Internet trends that began to happen to the U.S. newspaper industry in the 1990s are starting to unfold in newspapers markets within Europe, media economist Robert Picard said. “They’re being hit by all the same trends in the United States, but they’re about 7-10 years behind us.” The percentage of newspaper advertising sales in Europe, compared against other media, reveals a mixed bag. For example, advertisers spent more in newspapers than in television, magazines, radio, cinema, outdoor media or the Internet in Sweden (42.9%, despite deep broadband penetration), Germany (37.4%), the Netherlands (33.5%) and the United Kingdom (28.4%). However, in the United Kingdom, this lead newspapers enjoy in advertising revenue is narrowly held over television (26.4%) and the Internet (23.2%). Meanwhile, television advertising sales dominate and more greatly resemble trends seen in the United States in Italy (49.9%), Poland (45.5%) and Spain (43.9%), according to a 2009 report from the Office of Communications in the United Kingdom. However, the Internet clearly enjoyed gains in advertiser spending in the United States and throughout most of Western Europe between 2007 and 2008, especially in the United Kingdom, where such spending grew 4.3%.

A nationally focused newspaper industry encouraged faster adoption of innovation to gain a competitive edge within the United Kingdom, Levy said. There, some willingness among newspapers to rise to the Internet challenge was tied to a need to meet the giant British Broadcasting Corporation as it went on to develop the most popular content website outside of social networking in the United Kingdom. “People have had to think about how you create a product that appeals to quite a broad market. The size of the country means you can’t be complacent about limiting yourself just to core readers,” Levy said.

Some European nations have also blunted some of the advertising problems through government subsidy, though many believe that is only delaying the problem rather than solving it. Direct subsidies to newspapers produced positive, short-term results in some European markets, but no research shows that subsidies offer long-term benefits for the industry. Picard pointed out that once politicians vote for newspaper subsidies that are not often designed to keep pace with inflation, the industry is forgotten for decades. The effect that newspaper subsidies create prompts the question: Is a slow death better than a quick one?

Beyond long-term effects, questions also have emerged about the legality of some government subsidy programs for newspapers. For roughly four decades, Sweden has used subsidies to preserve media competition found in cities with at least two newspapers. The Swedish system of newspaper subsidy distribution fell under sharp criticism in 2009 from the European Commission, which monitors competition within European Union member nations. The commission charged that these subsidies skewed market forces and provided large newspapers in major metropolitan areas with too much aid. “In mid size or small cities it’s fair to assume that the second one would die after a while without the subsidy,” Levy said. The democratic function of the subsidy succeeded to some degree, allowing for a more competitive marketplace of ideas, Picard said.

Despite the presence of government interventions and greater, more reliable circulation gains in Europe, some European nations experienced devastating losses in the percentage of newspaper publishing jobs. Among nations that saw the deepest cuts between 1997 and 2007 were Norway (-53%), the Netherlands (-41%) and Germany (-25%), (OECD, 2010). At the same time, other nations that saw, in some cases, very dramatic gains in newspaper publishing employment included Spain (63%), Poland (30%), Ireland (17%), and the United Kingdom (1%). These figures provide one more illustration of how much variance exists among European newspaper publishing markets and how perilous generalizations can quickly become. In Central and Eastern Europe, recent research suggests a notable absence of on-the-job training for journalists who do remain in the workforce, as well as a shift toward tabloid-style content that is easier to churn out than in-depth, investigative reporting (Center for International Media Assistance, 2011). On a more fundamental level, newspaper executives’ quest for more revenue streams or business models may be short-sighted given the challenges and changes that face the media industry in general. “You won’t find new business models if you’re not willing to change the product,” Levy said. “The problem with newspapers is that, sometimes, people are looking more from producer’s perspective than consumer’s end.”

In France, for instance, some problems echo those in the United States, and some do not. Circulation of French newspapers overall fell by 5% in 2009, but that followed an increase the year before. Advertising revenues for daily newspapers also declined nearly 19% in 2009, compared with the year before. The loss of younger readers is one concern, and President Nicolas Sarkozy tried to encourage the newspaper readership in January 2009 by announcing that every 18-year-old in the country would get a free one-year subscription to the paper of his or her choice. In 2010, France announced that it would enter a second phase of this program. More than one in every 10 French newspaper consumers were ages 15 to 24 in 2009 (WAN, 2010). He also gave French newspapers 600 million euros in emergency aid in addition to existing subsidies. Yet the more immediate problems facing the industry differ than in the United States. Le Monde, the center left daily considered the country’s paper of record, has been plunged into the worst crisis since its creation in 1944. In 2008, it reported losing more than $3 million a month and had plans to cut a quarter of its news staff (WAN, 2009). The problem, however, is not primarily declining circulation or even advertising revenues. The problem for French newspapers, especially the more serious ones, is cost. Only members of the print union known as Le Livre are allowed to work in the five print shops legally permitted to produce newspapers in the country, where costs are double those in non-union print shops in France. The other problem, as it is in the United States, is that French papers are losing money online, and their costs there are rising as they chase the changing tastes of audiences.

In England, the problems may seem even more familiar to those we know in the United States, but there are still some differences. Overall, circulation dropped 7% among paid-for daily newspapers. Losses at 2% were less severe among free dailies. The 10 national newspapers saw copy sales drop nearly 20% from 2000 to 2009, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations (WAN, 2010). The economic recession did not improve the situation. Every regional paper in the country with paid circulation lost readers in 2008, according to ABC figures, and in 2009, several regional newspapers closed their doors for good while free papers gained in audience. Advertising revenues for print fell 17% in 2009, continuing a five-year decline of more than 28%. The British press already had a populist tabloid press of the sort only now developing in France, and the cost structure of British papers is not as onerous. The audience migration online and the difficulty of finding a way to monetize the web, however, remain.

Asia and Developing Markets

While the newspaper industries in United States and parts of Europe struggle to attract and retain readers, newspapers in many developing markets around the world enjoy boom times, thanks in part to increased literacy rates, improved employment opportunities and more disposable income. Circulation in Africa in 2009, for instance, rose across the continent by 4.8%. Asia overall saw circulation gains of 1.03% and is home to 67 of the 100 largest newspapers in the world. The gains were found at greater rates in nations such as India (5%), Afghanistan (7%) and Qatar (4%). South America saw circulation bump up 1.8% in 2008, but then its newspapers saw a 4.6% drop in circulation in 2009, (WAN, 2010).

A closer look at Asia by country, however, reveals newspaper industry complexities and demonstrates how quickly generalizations can be weakened even when looking at neighboring nations. For example, Japan and the Republic of Korea both support relatively mature newspaper industries and saw slight decreases in their newspaper circulation (OECD, 2010).

In Japan, the problems are more similar to the United States. Young people are moving to the Internet—and to free papers. The result is declining circulation (paid dailies down 2.2% in 2009) and declining ad revenue (down 15% in 2008 compared to the year before). But surging production and newsprint costs in Japan make these problems far worse. Industry net profit has been falling rapidly, down 91% in 2008 after dipping 33% in 2007, as the papers are unable to cut staff and to keep up product quality. Unless costs can be managed, something has to give. Meanwhile, newspaper daily reach in Japan, while it has fallen slightly, still sat at an enviable 92% of the adult population in 2008. In fact, 90% of people in Japan said their preferred form of media was a newspaper, The Japan Times reported in 2010.

The Republic of Korea outlines a different set of issues for print media, especially as more newspapers develop and invest in online platforms. Print circulation has held fairly steady. Between 2005 and 2009, print circulation dropped only 2%. But changes are certainly ahead. South Koreans spent less time reading newspapers in 2008 (37 minutes per day or recently) compared to just three years earlier (45 minutes). The nation is the world leader in providing high-speed, wireless Internet connectivity to virtually every household, and since the arrival of widespread online access to news and information, more South Koreans now prefer to get their news online (77.3%) than from newspapers (51.5%), (OECD, 2010). Meanwhile, the number of online editions of South Korean newspapers rose nearly 500% between 2005 and 2009.

Again, India stands in contrast to nations like Japan and Korea. The evidence suggests rising literacy rates were clearly one factor in this growth, not only in India, but also in other developing markets. Literacy rates among adults in Asia on average jumped from 69.8% (1985 to 1994) to 81.5% (2005 to 2008), according to data from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. During the same time periods in Africa, the literate adult population grew from 52.1% to 63.4%. By comparison, the literacy rate in North America and Europe is 95%.

And the increases in literacy and education are often accompanied by rising economic status. In places like India and China, the rise of the middle class fueled interest in picking up newspapers, said Tom Plate, an author and former Los Angeles Times columnist and UCLA Asian media professor. Another factor in developing countries, Picard said, is that print does not have to compete as much with other media, particularly broadcast. For example, newspaper editor and CEO Sanjay Gupta told The Hindustan Times that he maintains that print will continue to dominate India where 5% of the population has access to the Internet. Similarly, 5% of Kenyans ages 15 or older log onto the Internet daily, and 38% of Kenyan households have a television set, the Columbia Journalism Review reported in 2009. Therefore, it may not be surprising that a single newspaper copy generally is read by 14 people. Overall, these markets have not yet matured, but they might expect to contend with similar issues in 10 to 20 years, Picard added.

Print’s relatively stable days in developing markets also may be numbered. The potential for online news delivered via net-by-text cloud-based services, which is opening the door for people to access the Internet via mobile phone, is enormous. Also, Internet usage grew 14.49% worldwide in 2009 from a year before, (WAN, 2010). This was especially true in Africa (36%) and Asia (19%). Cell phone subscriptions grew 15.8% globally in 2009, with Asia seeing the largest spike (21.6%), followed closely by Africa (20.7%).

China, as always, is a unique case. Local and regional newspaper companies in China are consolidating into publicly traded national or inter-regional cross-media companies. Circulation overall rose at more than 10% for paid newspapers between 2005 and 2009, and newspaper advertising is growing, up 6.4% in 2008 (WAN, 2009, 2010). Interestingly, the ad revenues of other media are growing even more rapidly. Magazines, an industry in turmoil in the United States, saw the highest ad revenue growth in 2008, up 17.2%. Only 23% of the population is online, a third of the rate in the United States. However, Internet use is on the rise in China with 384 million online in 2009, compared with 239.8 million users in the United States (WAN, 2010). As people gain more funds and become more acquisitive, print remains a medium of delivery.

At the same time, the country is discovering the implications and perils of commercial advertising. The government in 2008, for instance, alarmed by actors and celebrities making claims in medical and drug advertisements, issued a circular banning such endorsements or any ads making claims about cure rates. A separate government ministry issued orders for media companies to exercise more censorship of advertising in other ways, and moves are coming to rewrite the broad laws governing advertising. Also, China continues to censor media through state filters.

The Future

If the developing world with growing populations is seeing newspapers thrive, most developed nations are suffering. The view in most places around the world is not that they are immune to the problems of American newspapers, but rather that the U.S. industry is ahead of them in navigating a dangerous curve. While they are not suffering from the immediate loss of advertising as American newspapers are—particularly the vanishing of classified—they can see their audience is moving online, as well as to television and satellite news channels. If not in the next two or three years, probably in the next five or ten, they will be faced with exactly the same problem we are. How can you monetize the audience that has gathered on the web? What are the prospects for charging for the content there? What are the trends in advertising online? What do the data tell us about the other prospects for revenue online beyond advertising or subscriptions?

The mistakes and the triumphs of American journalism will be the laboratory for these media elsewhere. And in places like India, a country that is both developed and developing at the same time, they may both learn from the American experience and probably leap ahead.

“We have to understand,” Picard said, “that when you have changes taking place in society, newspapers are going to follow them, consumption’s going to follow them, and how you fund papers will change a great deal.”

About This Report

The Project for Excellence in Journalism used three main methods to perform a qualitative, comparative analysis of the newspaper industry in the United States and nations elsewhere. Data that provided the greatest amount insight into this subject were found in the World Association of Newspapers 2010 and 2009 World Press Trends reports, as well as literacy data from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. A literature review included information from the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development’s 2010 ‘The Evolution of News and the Internet’ report, the (United Kingdom) Office of Communications ICMR 2009 Statistical Release, Center for International Media Assistance’s 2011 ‘Caught in the Middle: Central and Eastern European Journalism at a Crossroads’ report, National Book Trust-National Council of Applied Economic Research’s National Youth Readership Survey, as well as popular press reports from The New York Times, Agence France Presse, The Japan Times, The Hindustan Times and the Columbia Journalism Review. Finally, interviews with David Levy, Robert Picard and Rasmus Nielsen, all of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, as well as author Tom Plate, offered valuable perspective and analysis of trends in the newspaper industries in the United States and abroad. Levy, Picard and Nielsen also reviewed the manuscript and offered feedback.

Emerging Economics of Community News

By Michele McLellan

It is easy to oversimplify what is happening in online news. Breathless headlines — from the $315 million sale of The Huffington Post to AOL, Patch’s march to 1,000 plus local sites, to the early dismantling of TBD.com in Washington, D.C. – tend to obscure other important efforts, especially on the local front.

Commitment and a sense of community far outdistance celebrity or cash in the emerging news ecosystem. But increased learning about what doesn’t work and sophistication about what might work offers a promise that more local news sites will stay alive and grow.

To be sure, many local news startups have failed. That has led to fears that there is no business model for local news online.

I see growing evidence, however, that those fears may be proved false. In any field, most experiments do fail, and in the dynamic online news space, it’s pretty much all experimentation right now. Failed news experiments have taught us a few things about what doesn’t work: Armies of citizen contributors will not replace all journalists, for example. Journalism savvy does not translate into business savvy. Grants are not a stable or enduring funding model.

Instead, my work studying the emerging landscape and my ongoing survey of new sites suggests two other trends. First, local sites are beginning to learn the importance of focusing as much on financial sustainability and revenues as on news creation. Second, they are learning, much as traditional news organizations are, that they need multiple revenue streams, not just one or two, to sustain themselves.

Armed with that learning, we are seeing more promising and sophisticated experiments in community news. And they seem to be coming from people who embrace business entrepreneurship and digital innovation, perhaps more than from people who focus on content and dream that their next grant is just around the corner.

Not everyone is there. Ask Tom O’Malia, professor of clinical entrepreneurship at the USC Marshall School of Business, what he sees in journalists who arrive at Knight Digital Media Center’s News Entrepreneur Boot Camp to learn how to start a new site. O’Malia responds: “They have not yet recognized the difference between what they do, the product, and the value – the benefit – of what they do.”

The first, the product – what we have always called journalism – is what we have been spoiled into believing it is a public good so compelling that people are bound to open their wallets for it despite abundant evidence to the contrary. The latter – discovering and providing what customers value – is the challenging path to actually making money in news.

Ask Eric Newton, vice president of the journalism program at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, about making money in news. Newton describes two models.

The first model relies almost exclusively on grants and spends nearly all that money on editorial content.

The landscape is littered with failed examples of this model and this is a key learning from recent years.

In contrast, Newton says, a newer model has multiple sources of revenue and spends substantial amounts of money on items such as technology, sales and marketing as well as editorial content.

This is the model that holds promise for a sustainable flow of news and information in many communities.

Newton is reflecting ideas from an in-depth study of large nonprofit sites commissioned by the Knight Foundation, which has been driving much of the innovation in local news and information. (The study, by Community Wealth Ventures, will be published soon.)

A draft of the study points to the challenges that journalism-focused organizations face. Among key findings are two things that online local news sites must do to succeed:

John Thornton, chairman of the Texas Tribune, also recognizes that news organizations need multiple revenue sources. Thornton, a venture capitalist, calls this “revenue promiscuity.”

For the nonprofit Tribune, which covers state government and politics, Thornton foresees three major sources of revenue:

“Our intermediate-term goal is a $3 million annual budget, split roughly equally between membership, corporate support, and specialty pubs [publications]. We’re a long way from that, but are making progress—and note that we’re not assuming any foundation support at all,” Thornton wrote last year.

Thornton, like other publishers, sees grant funding as something to help get sites started, not an ongoing operating subsidy: “[N]ot only will philanthropy alone not save journalism, it can’t likely support even the majority of our modest efforts.  We need to run our businesses like businesses, even if our goal is public service rather than profitability.”

Another of the more robust new sites, MinnPost also has aggressively pursued multiple revenue sources. The site reported a small surplus in 2010 on spending of $1.26 million. Revenue increased 18 percent in 2010, with steady growth in advertising and sponsorships. Other sources are individual and corporate donors and an annual MinnRoast fundraiser.

Voice of San Diego projects a 2011 budget of $1.2 million that includes hefty amounts from advertising and corporate sponsorships, major gifts from individuals and foundation grants, and smaller ones from membership donations and from selling news content for publication by other news outlets.

In addition to these larger sites, we have seen a proliferation of smaller community and neighborhood news sites in recent years. Often for-profit enterprises, these sites operate on a fraction of the funding of the big nonprofits.

Most of them report revenues of $100,000 a year or less, according to a survey I am conducting with support from The Patterson Foundation. Of about 30 sites in this category that have reported so far, a third post revenue of under $10,000, a third post revenue of $80,000 or more, and the rest are scattered in between.

This is not big money. But it may prove sustainable in some communities, just as volunteer models have flourished in some places and faded away in others.

Ask Howard Owens, publisher of The Batavian in upstate New York, about the idea that there is no business model for local news. Owens scoffs. With good reason.

Owens reports revenue in the $100,000-to-$150,000 range for 2010 from advertising alone on the site he has operated with his wife, Billie, for two years.  This year, Owens expects to add different revenue streams and is hiring part-time staff to help him do that.

Owens’ own experience is in business and sales as well as in journalism. “That ingrained in me what a lot of journalists miss – if you’re not focused on how to make money, you’re not going to make money,” he said.

Like The Batavian, many other small sites rely mostly on local advertising. including BaristaNet, MyEdmondsNews, Newcastle Now, and West Seattle Blog.

But, depending on their community and their mission, other small online publishers are finding revenue options in addition to local advertising.

Next Door Media, for example, has built a network of neighborhood sites in Seattle that achieves economies on the tech side and enables the network to sell more eyeballs to advertisers. By contrast, Owens at The Batavian eschews participation in an advertising network because it is contrary to his strategy of supporting his highly local advertisers.

While some see advertising networks as the next big thing for small sites, digital consultant Rusty Coats cautions that networks are not likely to scale across disparate independent sites with different publishing platforms and advertising formats. Building a new network like Next Door or Patch.com may work, but uniting disparate established sites is a different matter.

Other sites, like the Sacramento Press and Oakland Local, seek revenue in providing services such as training or Web development to local businesses, community organizations and even to other online news publishers.

Ben Ilfeld, publisher of the Sacramento Press, says two thirds of its site revenue comes from helping local businesses use social media and the other third comes from advertising. “We had a very successful experiment with social media consulting and it has become our No. 1 source of revenue,” he said. “We had a terrible time selling sponsorships to local events and we stopped. Just like our tech mentality the key is to try a lot and fail fast.’’ (In this regard, these small local sites are operating in the same way locally that some large media companies on a national level, such as Hearst, which is building on its knowledge of advertising to move into social media and online consulting .)

In short, if the new media ecosystem three years ago involved largely using nonprofit startup money to do experiments in content, today we are seeing experiments in new revenue as well. Here is a sampling of funding combinations that publishers have reported in my ongoing survey:

Corona del Mar Today: Syndicating content to local newspapers, advertising.

SF Public Press: Business services, events, donations, grants, membership, syndication.

Oswego County Today: Local and national advertising, sponsorships, web development and hosting.

Gapers Block: Local and national advertising, merchandise, grants.

Davidson News: Local advertising, business services, memberships.

New West: Local and national advertising, events, sponsorships.

These new models – large and small — raise all kinds of questions about journalism. In such a dynamic environment, it is very hard to know what will stick and be useful even a year or two out.

It is also important to note that these newcomers join traditional media that are transforming their work in local news – the Journal Register Company, for example, in the private sphere, and National Public Radio in the public sphere.

Patch.com poses one set of questions. The AOL network of 800 and growing local news sites casts a large shadow on the local news landscape. What exactly is its revenue model: local ad networks and business directories? Will it drive fledgling local independent sites to ground in some communities only then to fold up itself? Will community support carry the independent startups through?

The landscape also poses question about journalism education and whether it is preparing students to work in these more entrepreneurial environments. Traditionalists may sniff that their job is to teach journalism. But if the real job of journalism schools is to help journalism survive, then entrepreneurship, business literacy and community engagement must be as much a part of the curriculum as multimedia and digital literacy. New York University’s Studio 20 is one experimental effort to give students a more holistic education about local online journalism.

Another question: What role will foundations play? Surveys last year of local foundations found that half were making media and journalism grants and nearly 60 percent believed such funding would increase in the coming years.

Many foundations are funding existing media or creating new projects themselves. The Patterson Foundation is helping to continue my work in organizing Block by Block, which identifies promising community news sites and connects publishers with one another. Patterson will help to build connective tissue and resources that support innovation rather than funding a particular site or individual effort.

Still, foundations are not the entire solution – or even the majority of it.  “Even if all the country’s foundations dedicated all their money to news, which they would never do, it wouldn’t produce nearly as much money as the commercial sector has traditionally generated for news,” says Vivian Vahlberg, who manages Community News Matters for The Chicago Community Trust.

I think another big question about community news outlets is whether they can create new models for community engagement and impact that will drive funding.

Are emerging models more dependent on community than traditional organizations, and thus more motivated to engage? Will sites develop relationships with their users that they can monetize without straining community bonds?

The St. Louis Beacon represents one highly ambitious test case. The three-year-old nonprofit site sees a future in developing community relationships that it can then leverage for revenue.

“We think of ourselves not as an online newspaper but as an engine of engagement,” says editor and founder Margaret Wolf Freivogel. “Our job is not just to toss information at people but to figure out how we can serve them better. That means meeting them where they are and in whatever way they find convenient.”

“The community conversation is just as important to our mission as our journalism,” says Nicole Hollway, general manager of the Beacon. “We really see it as crucial to our success not to just deliver information, but also hearing information and helping people with the information they need to make their community better.”

The mission shapes not only the content of the Beacon Web site but also extends to social media, community partnerships and organizing and facilitating regular meetings where residents can talk with one another about issues such as race, class and housing disparities – issues that people usually only talk to friends or co-workers about.

“Meeting new people in respectful, intelligent conversation about touchy subjects is valued and gives them hope for the future of St. Louis,” Hollway said.

It’s tough to put a value on those exchanges. But Hollway believes that if the Beacon can develop close, trusted relationships in the community, it can offer the benefit of those relationships to advertisers and sponsors.

“My long-term vision for the Beacon is that through content and conversation we can be expert in high-touch communication, in how to reach people and have an interaction with them,” Hollway says. “We will know them well.”

The Beacon, in other words, is creating a model that reconnects journalism with community and serves significant purpose of improving public consideration of civic issues. This effort could lead to a revenue source that does not now exist.

As we enter 2011, community media are experimenting with content and engagement as well as revenue, and the right combination of the three may be at the vanguard of the new economics of news.

Michele McLellan is a journalist and consultant who works on projects that help foster a healthy local news ecosystem. Her principal clients are the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Knight Digital Media Center at the University of Southern California. Her independent research into the emerging community news landscape is supported by The Patterson Foundation and the Reynolds Journalism Institute.

Seattle: A New Media Case Study

By Michael R. Fancher

Seattle, perhaps more than any other American city, epitomizes the promise and challenges of American journalism at the local level.

In the last few years, it has experienced both a sharp loss of traditional news resources and an exciting rise in new journalistic enterprises and inventive collaborations between traditional and emerging media (see Appendix for more about these sites). A New America Foundation case study of Seattle’s news ecosystem describes it as “a digital community still in transition.” A new, vibrant media scene is emerging. But it also may not take hold.

Consider first the contraction. The city has lost two daily newspapers in the past four years. The King County Journal, which served suburban communities to the east and south of Seattle, closed its daily newspaper in January 2007. About half of its journalists were kept on to work at sister weekly and twice-weekly suburban newspapers. Only 10 newsroom jobs went away, but 40,000 households lost their daily newspaper.

The loss was much greater when the Post-Intelligencer stopped printing in March 2009. The P-I was Seattle’s oldest newspaper, tracing its roots back to 1863, and it became the first newspaper in the country to switch to online-only publication. About 140 newsroom jobs disappeared, while 25 staff members stayed on to work for seattlepi.com.

But the closures of the King County Journal and Post-Intelligencer were only half the story of lost newsroom jobs in Seattle. The Seattle Times had cut staff substantially in the years before the P-I closed. The study by the New America Foundation puts the number of Seattle Times lost jobs at 165, from 375 journalists to 210 in the five years before the P-I ceased publication.

Hit hard by declining print advertising, all three Seattle-area daily newspapers had lost money throughout the previous decade. Hearst, which had owned the P-I since 1921, put the paper’s losses at $14 million in 2008 alone.1

PEJ’s State of the News of Media reports estimate that from 2001 to the end of 2009, about 15,000 newspaper journalists across the country lost their jobs.  That was about 30 percent of the industry. In Seattle, the percentage was almost twice that.

The human toll can be felt in a report from Ruth Teichrob, a former P-I staffer who has been monitoring what has been happening to her colleagues. Of the 82 who responded to her survey in November and December 2010:

How much hope can be found in the emergence of new journalistic enterprises in Seattle? To see how difficult it can be to settle on an answer, consider two summary paragraphs in the New America Foundation case study issued in June and updated in November 2010. They are like day and night in describing the current Seattle media landscape:

Seattle, Wash., could be considered a city singularly suited to develop a healthy democracy in the digital age. The city government, citizens and business have created a productive environment for the next generation of information-sharing and community engagement. Years of economic growth and relative prosperity have fostered new, superior practices in news and information.  Yet, losing a major print newspaper, as Seattle did when the Seattle Post-Intelligencer closed, adversely affects a community, by leaving it with one less place to provide public service journalism, stories about people and general community updates. In parallel, Seattle has been at the center of an explosion of alternative news outlets, especially online, which has created a critical mass of information portals for geographic and social communities.

However, despite the relative vibrancy of the media scene, and even with all its demographic and other advantages, it is unclear how much of this innovation is sustainable. The local web is littered with websites that are no longer updated, and few of the startups boast anything like the journalistic firepower or profitability of the papers of the past. We applaud the efforts of these startups but are skeptical that many will sustain if their benchmark of success is profit alone. Moreover, much development is still needed for Seattle’s information environment to reflect the diverse perspectives of traditionally less-covered minority and financially disadvantaged communities.  In short, though the media landscape in Seattle has many green shoots, few conclusions can be drawn about its longer-term future. 3

Seattle’s digital vitality

Many factors contribute to the vitality of Seattle’s digital news and information scene.

It is among the most digitally connected cities in the country. Seattle, for instance, was first in 2009 and third in 2010 among America’s Most Wired Cities, as measured by Forbes.com. Of the top three finishers in 2010, Seattle was first in having the most Wi-Fi hot spots per capita. 4

It is also among the most civically engaged. A 2010 Greater Seattle Civic Health Index, produced by the Seattle CityClub, said the city is a national leader in core indicators of civic participation. It included these statistics:5

People in Seattle also read heavily.  Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) has regularly ranked Seattle first or second among America’s cities in a combination of factors, including book sales, education level, internet resources, library support, holdings and utilization, newspaper circulation and periodical publishers. Among the specific factors, Seattle ranked first in 2010 in booksellers and education, and fourth in libraries. 6

Seattle’s lowest factor ratings in the CCSU report for 2010 were in categories related to media. It ranked eighth in internet resources. (Internet book orders per capita, and unique visitors and webpage views per capita to a city’s internet version newspaper.) It tied for 17th in combined weekday and Sunday newspaper circulation. It tied for 11th in the number of magazine and journals published per 100,000 population.

Seattle is also among the most tech-savvy places in the United States. According to the New America Foundation case study, “the information technology industry employs 90,000 people in the Seattle region, and the Puget Sound area is home to 150 interactive media companies, comprising an influential stake in that $30 billion industry.” 7

Among the high-tech companies based around Seattle are Microsoft, Amazon.com and RealNetworks.

Slate, introduced by Microsoft in 1996, was but one of many startups in the Seattle area that spawned a generation of digital content pioneers that have remained in the area. For example:

These factors have created a sense of positive energy about the possibilities of new media landscape, not a pervading sense of loss. As I see it, some key elements to this include:

Experimentation: John Cook, co-founder and until recently executive editor of TechFlash, summed up the attitude of many in Seattle. He said in an e-mail: “A renaissance is occurring in terms of how content is produced, distributed and consumed. That’s exciting stuff for local journalists, despite the challenges this has meant for traditional business models. The media world is getting turned upside down and I believe that is creating new opportunities for entrepreneurial journalists who can harness the new distribution methods and think creatively about how people interact with online content.”

He added, “There’s just a ton of creative energy in this community right now as people experiment with new models and ideas. Traditional outlets also are starting to realize the power of new media.”

Hyperlocal news sites: This high level of experimentation, and the nature of Seattle being a city broken up into distinct neighborhoods, has also led to a remarkable level of extremely local news sites. A Washington News Council database shows about 90 place-based news and blogs sites just within the Seattle city limits. 8

As Diane Douglas, executive director of Seattle CityClub, said:  “Seattle can beat its chest that it has so many neighborhood blogs. Beyond just providing information, they are doing community-building and activating citizens.”

For example, the West Seattle Blog was one of the winners of the 2010 CityClub Community Matters Awards for building public trust. It also won the Online News Association’s 2010 award for community collaboration, which goes to a news project or website that produces outstanding journalism through strong interaction with its community. In 2009 that award went to My Ballard, another Seattle local news site that is part of Next Door Media.

In 2010, Phinneywood.com won a national Sigma Delta Chi award from the Society of Professional Journalists for its coverage of arson in the Greenwood neighborhood. The site operators said the award was “thanks in no small part to devoted readers who supplied numerous tips and kept us motivated to stay on top of the story.”

A limited content analysis in the New America Foundation case study indicated that the hyperlocal news sites examined are providing original content. “And while not comprehensive,” it said, “this preliminary study suggests that these online news startups, with less content and narrower focus than the two established citywide outlets, serve different information needs than their counterparts in the mainstream media.”

Collaboration: The third feature I see in Seattle is that these experiments are collaborating with each other. Because many of the new startups are small and cover different areas, they share knowledge and experience, content and even networking with traditional media to have a greater collective impact.

At a recent discussion of the Seattle news landscape, Mark Briggs, director of digital media at the KING 5 television station, called it “collaboration squared.” The motivation is simple – everyone has fewer resources, so people leverage what they have through working together.

News outlets in the Greater Seattle area are partnering in many ways, including shared reporting and distribution of major stories. Twitter has become a huge back-channel tool for sharing tips and preparing for big breaking news stories. Journalists cooperate on freedom of information requests and sometimes on joint interviews. Collaborations that once would have been unlikely, if not unthinkable, are increasingly common.

The Seattle Times began a few news partnerships with the local blogs, funded through a grant from the Knight Foundation, in August 2009. Today the list is growing toward 40. Beyond neighborhood and community news sites, the partners include topical sites covering everything from hiking and sailing to open government and health. 9

Bob Payne, the newspaper’s director of communities, wrote in an e-mail, “Collaborations and grant-funded journalism efforts are really taking off. With newspapers working with less in terms of money and bodies, looking for other ways to get important stories covered is becoming vital. More and more papers are dedicating time to research aimed at smart collaborations and grant applications.”

The Times utilized a different form of partnership to produce a special report called, “Invisible Families, the Homeless You Don’t See.” 10 The project was produced as part of a fellowship through Seattle University, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Times received one of the fellowship grants to use as it saw fit. Other fellows included, journalists from three other media organizations and two freelance journalists.

Payne wrote, “In our case, the Invisible Families project from last August employed both of these angles to arrive at a compelling package for both print and online: grant money from Seattle University helped fund work on the project, and our partnerships with local news blogs helped bring diverse coverage to the project.”

Acceptance of emerging media: A fourth factor is that other stakeholders in civic life of Seattle have been quick to embrace the emerging media rather than being suspicious of it. Tracy Record, editor and co-publisher of the West Seattle Blog, said, “At least in Seattle, many government and business leaders recognize the media landscape has changed. I don’t find many doors closed in my face.”

As an example, government public information officers “seem to answer neighborhood news people’s inquiries the same way they answer citywide media’s inquiries. The mayor’s media brown bag includes a mix of online and offline, for-profit and nonprofit. In the business realm, sources and interviewees seem to understand where the readers are, and are usually savvy enough to answer inquiries from nontraditional sources,” Record said.

The acceptance also affects how people engage with emerging media, Record said. They are more apt to alert news outlets when they see breaking news and are receptive to guidance of how to do it better. “On the other hand, the people who ‘were the audience’ also enjoy teaching when they can. We have commenters who are firefighters, lawyers, pilots, grocery clerks, etc., and not shy about explaining something unique to their occupation if it somehow plays into a discussion. I learn a lot from them,” she said.

Social media: There has been a notable embrace of social media as a way of extending and connecting many of the new news experiments. John Cook, co-founder and executive editor of TechFlash, said, “Social media may be a buzz word. But it is real, and when utilized properly it can drive significant adoption of quality journalism.”

Certainly, the Seattle Times has embraced it. Bob Payne, the paper’s director of communities, commented in an e-mail, “The single biggest trend is obviously the importance of social media, particularly Facebook, as far as disseminating the work that The Times does. And I don’t mean just getting people to link to our articles. I mean all the work that we do, from videos, to poll questions, to partner links to live chats. If your site is not optimized to take full advantage of this viral marketing, you need to get that done pronto.”

For example, The Times started a Facebook page dedicated to its Community News Partnership to highlight some of the best partner content on a daily basis. It has also held live chats on projects that news partners have contributed to.

What Is Lacking

For all of this journalistic vitality, Seattle’s changing news ecosystem clearly has urgent news and information needs that are unmet, and some elements are more difficult to cope with.

Diane Douglas, executive director of Seattle CityClub, says that her civic group must communicate to everybody, using all forms of communication.  It cannot depend on big regional entities to distribute information. While that may be healthier, she has to acknowledge that “it’s harder,” and there is more risk that certain communities will not be reached.

People told me it is also harder to find beat reporters who understand a subject and have authority in the community. For Douglas, that means her group has a harder time finding moderators for its discussions, especially in the areas of health and education.

“Clearly some vitally important stories are less likely to be covered. It’s very frightening to think of those gaps and all the more insidious because you don’t know what you don’t know,” Douglas said.

Hyperlocal blogs are effectively covering many neighborhoods and some “scrappy” startups are great sources of information, but Douglas says she does not know how well they are equipped to do comprehensive coverage.

Kathy George, a former P-I journalist who became a lawyer, said in an e-mail that sources of news are much more diffused than in the past. “As a result,” she said, “big stories may escape the kind of attention necessary to bring about government reforms or social change.  Unless a story appears in one of the few major media outlets remaining in Seattle, it is unlikely to have a lasting impact.”

George said that Investigate West, a nonprofit investigative startup launched after the P-I stopped printing, has produced stories that resulted in three bills being introduced in the current legislative session. “However, those stories appeared on MSNBC and in the Seattle Times,” she said. “It seems that stories appearing only in a news blog (i.e., Crosscut, Post-Globe, I-West, pi.com, or a neighborhood blog) are not having comparable impact because of their limited audiences.”
George was of two minds about the overall impact. “On the positive side,: she said, “The Times, Seattle Weekly, and a few radio stations are still functioning as major outlets for competitive news reporting. But staff cuts and funding troubles seem to be taking a toll. Lately, The Times has been running large house ads in place of news, and seems to be running more wire stories or news borrowed from other sources. The Weekly seems to be distributing fewer papers.”

Some clear gaps can be seen in the news and information ecosystem:

State capital coverage: As with most states, Washington has seen a significant decline in the number of reporters covering its state capital. David Ammons, an Associated Press reporter who covered the state capital in Olympia for 37 years before leaving in 2008 to work for the secretary of state, said the press corps “has shrunk to a shadow of its former self.”

During most of his tenure, he said, “We had between a dozen and 15 fulltime reporters, plus occasional drop-in by TV and radio, and session-only reporters and interns. During the past five years or so that has shrunk to about seven or eight or so year-around staff. . . . There is barely manpower enough to cover the waterfront, never mind much time for digging, analysis, etc.”

Barry Mitzman, a former journalist who leads a new undergraduate major in strategic communication at Seattle University, said: “No one misses the dog that doesn’t bark. A one newspaper Seattle, once dreaded, is now the accepted norm. Olympia? We don’t know what we don’t know, so we don’t miss it.”

Arts and culture coverage: At a CityClub discussion about local journalism in the fall of 2010, audience members commented on the loss of news coverage and reviews about the arts scene. Diane Douglas of CityClub says, “This is especially painful in a time of economic stress because arts organizations are hurting and can’t get their stories told.”

Former P-I journalist Kathy George said:  “There are not enough people working full-time in competitive journalism. As a result, there is just generally less reporting, and less news and commentary being generated.  For example, the former P-I arts and entertainment critics are generally not working anywhere now, and there is less diversity and quantity of arts coverage.”

Public Insight or networked journalism: While many Seattle area news organizations are using social media to connect with their communities, none has a robust, sophisticated effort to tap into the expertise of their audiences. KUOW, the University of Washington’s NPR affiliate, has a fledgling “public insight network,” in which it asks listeners to share their experiences in regard to specific stories. (The gold standard for “public insight network” journalism is Minnesota Public Radio, which has established a database of 75,000 listeners whose knowledge can be tapped in the reporting process.)

Many news websites have reader blogs and other interactions, and hyperlocal news sites rely heavily on reporting from their communities. But the opportunity for serious crowd sourcing to engage the public in creating content is largely untapped.

Foundation support: Foundations across the country are feeling the loss of journalistic resources in terms of coverage about the issues they support, which is creating new awareness about the importance of funding journalism. For the most part, this is translating into funding for coverage of specific topics or stories. It is far from clear, however, what will happen when the initial seed money is gone. Many foundations do not want to be seen as long-term underwriters of these media startups.

There is one other issue that matters when foundation funding is involved: transparency. In all foundation support for journalism, news organization and funders must make sure the public can see and evaluate where the money comes from, where it is spent and what strings, if any, are attached. Transparency is critical in maintaining trust, as evidenced by a Seattle Times article headlined “Does Gates (Foundation) funding of media taint objectivity.” 11

Mapping and metrics: Few communities have adequate methods for mapping information needs and measuring information health. Seattle is no exception.

The Washington News Council has made an excellent start with development of its Online Media Guide (yes, the acronym is OMG). It has a database of more than 800 websites and provides a strong starting place for examining the scene. 12

Diagnostic tools are needed to identify news and information gaps as the first step in developing potential solutions. Tracy Record of the West Seattle Blog says the current situation is “all over the map. Some content areas and geographic areas are fairly well covered. Some are virtually ignored. Some are over covered. And while there is a great deal of unprocessed information available, from both official and unofficial sources, it’s overwhelming and difficult for the average person to sort through.”

Sustainability: Whether established media, emerging media, freelance, for-profit or nonprofit, finding a sustainable business model is elusive for everyone. “Online-only news sites are running on fumes, yet they persist,” says Barry Mitzman of Seattle University. “They risk exhausting the human capital that’s sustaining them. An improved economy–where starving online journalists could find other, decent jobs – might cause them to fold. But they’re surprisingly resilient.”

There is a sense that innovation in content creation is not being matched by innovation in business development. Some organizations are waiting for an economic rebound, rather than generating new revenue strategies. Kathy George, formerly of the P-I, observed somberly, “Financially, it appears nothing is working.  Journalism needs a new business model,” as well as “capacity building and fundraising/development help for upstart or emerging outlets.”

KING 5 and The Seattle Times announced in October 2010 they were forming a joint partnership to build and manage a local online advertising network. “The Seattle Times and KING 5 will be working with online publishers to sell ads onto their web pages and share the corresponding revenue as part of the beLOCAL Ad Network. Community blogs and other niche publications throughout the Puget Sound region will benefit from the sales resources of the larger media companies without sacrificing their own sales efforts or relationships,” the announcement said. 13

While that is an encouraging development, it is too soon to tell whether the relationship will succeed and whether it will prompt other similar ventures.

Tomorrow’s Seattle

About a year ago, more than 240 people convened at the University of Washington for a Journalism That Matters Pacific Northwest conference with the theme, “Re-imagining News and Community in the Pacific Northwest.” Their hope was to better understand the changing Northwest news ecology, with the aim of developing partnerships and innovations to make it better.

They were citizens, editors, writers, broadcasters, bloggers, producers, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, educators, students, technologists, media activists, community journalists, public advocates and public-policy experts. Many felt a deep anguish about what had been happening to journalism.

“I don’t know anybody from my profession who isn’t heartbroken, devastated, terrified, scared, enraged, despondent, bereft. I just don’t know anybody,” said a former colleague of mine at the Seattle Times. She was talking about the mood around the country, but the loss of newsroom jobs was even worse in Seattle than it was nationally.

By the end of the first evening, however, a different sense was emerging when people were invited to share their reactions. Despite all of the heartache and hardship, people were moving from a sense of crisis to one of possibility.

Monica Guzman, then of seattlepi.com, pointed out that the event was being held almost a year to the day from Hearst’s announcement that the P-I would be sold or closed. As hard as that year had been, people were moving forward. Uncertainty was being replaced by collaboration, Guzman said. Journalists were working to together to mitigate the effects of diminished resources. News organizations were forming alliances. Startups and traditional media were teaming up. Even at the level of reporters, people were collaborating.

Two other themes were clear that evening as well:

For the next two and a half days, attendees participated in wide-ranging conversations about the news and information environment in the Pacific Northwest. 14 Ten initiatives were created. They concerned issues such as global health journalism, digital literacy, civic engagement, government access and accountability, journalism ethics and standards, mapping the news ecosystem and increasing support for new forms of journalism.

A year later, nine of those initiatives are still active and moving forward today, and the message in Seattle is clear. 15

The more diffuse news and information ecosystem is more complex and more difficult to imagine. It is also still vulnerable. But its potential seems richer than the once more stable system that it was replacing.

About the Author

Michael R. Fancher is a co-convenor of Journalism That Matters Pacific Northwest, an effort to improve the news and information health of communities in the Pacific Northwest. He is an investor in and a member of the Journalism Advisory Board of Intersect, a web platform to enhance people’s ability to share stories. He is also vice president of the Washington Coalition for Open Government and serves on an advisory committee to the Fordham University Graduate School of Business.

Fancher retired from the Seattle Times in 2008 after 20 years as executive editor. After retiring he served as a 2008-2009 Donald W. Reynolds Fellow in the Missouri School of Journalism. He received a B.A. in journalism from the University of Oregon, a masters degree in communication from Kansas State University and an M.B.A. from the University of Washington.

Appendix

Any list of a cities news and information sources is going to be flawed and incomplete, but here are some noteworthy outlets that illustrate what is happening in digital journalism in Seattle.

Common Language Project http://www.clpmag.org/about.php

The CLP is a nonprofit multimedia journalism organization housed in the University of Washington’s Department of Communication. Three talented young Seattle journalists founded it in 2006: Sarah Stuteville, Alex Stonehill and Jessica Partnow.  CLP works in three key areas:

In January 2011, CLP launched the Seattle Digital Literacy Initiative in partnership with public high school teachers and the University of Washington. The purpose is to foster understanding about the functions and methods of journalism and to encourage students to be better engaged as citizens. A summer camp program to teach investigative journalism and media production is planned for summer 2011. <http://www.seattledigitalliteracy.org/>

Crosscut.com http://crosscut.com/

David Brewster, who founded the Seattle Weekly in 1976, started Crosscut, whose motto is “News of the Great Nearby,” in April 2007. It began as a for-profit entity, but closed and reopened with nonprofit status in December 2008.

Crosscut.com says it is “a daily guide to local and Northwest news, and a forum where writers and citizens with many points of view can report and discuss local news.… Crosscut is a general-interest news site, with coverage ranging over politics, business, arts and lifestyle, and the world of ideas. It does thoughtful and fresh analysis of the important issues of the day, not routine breaking news.”

In addition to aggregating links to local news sites, Crosscut publishes its own stories and has 40 contract writers and freelancers. It has posted openings for a CEO to work with Brewster and an editor.

In June 2010, the Seattle Foundation was awarded an $185,500 Knight Foundation Challenge Grant “to expand in-depth and explanatory coverage” on Crosscut.com.

Brewster said in an e-mail, “I think our model, with six revenue streams (ads, sponsorships, members, major donors and foundations, events and syndication) is working, though it is tougher by being general interest and nonpartisan. My sense is that investigative sites and initiatives will capture foundation and individual donations, since that is fading away so completely (except for the dailies).”

Data.Seattle.Gov http://data.seattle.gov/

Launched in February 2010, Data.Seattle.Gov is intended to increase public access to “high value, machine-readable datasets” generated by various departments of Seattle city government. It provides abundant material for citizens and news outlets.

DataSphere Technologies http://datasphere.com/

Based in Bellevue, Wash., DataSphere Technologies is a provider of hyperlocal web technology and sales solutions for media companies. It announced recently that it had launched its 1,000th community website nationally. It announced in September 2010 that it had raised $10 million in venture capital funding, following $10.8 million in funding earlier in the year. Seattle’s KOMO-TV and Radio use its advertising system called LocalNet for their hyperlocal news network.

Grist http://www.grist.org/

Grist describes itself as “a beacon in the smog.” A nonprofit funded by foundations, donations and advertising, it says of itself:

“You know how some people make lemonade out of lemons? At Grist, we’re making lemonade out of looming climate apocalypse. “It’s more fun than it sounds, trust us!

“Grist has been dishing out environmental news and commentary with a wry twist since 1999 — which, to be frank, was way before most people cared about such things. Now that green is in every headline and on every store shelf (bamboo hair gel, anyone?), Grist is the one site you can count on to help you make sense of it all.…

“At Grist, we take our work seriously, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously. Because of the many things this planet is running out of, sanctimonious tree-huggers ain’t one of them.”

Despite that lightheartedness, Grist and its founder and CEO, Chip Giller, have received national recognition for their work. The CJR News Frontier Database says Grist “reaches about 800,000 individuals per month through its website, e-mails, and avid use of social media. The site was on pace to spend $3 million in 2010, about $500,000 of which comes from corporate ads and sponsorships, $300,000 from reader donations, and the balance from philanthropic foundations.” http://www.cjr.org/the_news_frontier_database/2011/01/grist.php

HistoryLink.org http://www.historylink.org/

Founded in 1998, HistoryLink calls itself the “free online encyclopedia of Washington State History” and says it is “the first and largest encyclopedia of community history created expressly for the Internet.” With more than 5,550 original, sourced essays as of March 2010, it is an incredible public resource. The nonprofit site says it serves an average of 5,000 unique visitors a day, one third of whom are K-12 teachers and students.

Intersect http://www.intersect.com/

Seattle-based Intersect says it is “a site where storytellers of all kinds can explore what happens when stories are mapped by time and place and shared with the world.” It launched in beta in 2010 and is now fully operational. Its CEO, Peter Rinearson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and entrepreneur, founded it.

In October 2010, Intersect and the Washington Post collaborated on an experiment in which Post reporters and the public could use Intersect.com to post reports from the Jon Stewart-Steven Colbert rally in Washington, D.C. http://specials.washingtonpost.com/intersect/

InvestigateWest http://invw.org/

InvestigateWest says it “rose from the ashes of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer” but prides itself on not being “limited by those roots.” Founded in July 2009, it is a nonprofit organization dedicated to investigative and narrative journalism whose mission statement says, in part:

The old model for supporting and conducting public service journalism has collapsed. Thousands of traditional journalism jobs have simply vanished in this region, and along with them the opportunity for the kind of in-depth, investigative reporting and memorable storytelling that keeps citizens engaged and informed about changes shaping their lives.

InvestigateWest continues the reporting essential to democracy. Our passion for investigative journalism is paired with the ambition to find and connect with new audiences using the new tools of the digital revolution now available to journalists. Investigative reporting and storytelling takes time, resources and talent that many traditional news outlets can no longer afford.

InvestigateWest was started by a group of accomplished journalists with a track record of producing investigative stories and, with them, change in public policy and corporate practice. Our mission is to cut across the old media borders to reach and engage audiences by new and powerful means. We harness the synergies of the printed word with the evocative power of photography, video and audio to produce reports used and distributed by a wide variety of news organizations, whether online, print, television or radio.

InvestigateWest is led by executive director and editor Rita Hibbard, formerly an assistant managing editor and investigative editor at the P-I. It got a $100,000 grant from Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation <http://www.journalismfoundation.org/default.asp> in February 2010 and another in February 2011. Other funders include the Brainerd Foundation, the Bullitt Foundation, the Russell Family Foundation and the Fund for Investigative Journalism. It also solicits finds from the public.

More than 20 national and regional media partners, including MSNBC.com, AOLNews.com,  the Seattle Times, seattlepi.com and The Oregonian, have distributed its work.

The Columbia Journalism Review published a first anniversary review of InvestigateWest, which it called “new pioneers of the west.” http://www.cjr.org/the_observatory/blazing_trails_changing_paths.php?page=all

Instivate <http://www.instivate.com/about>

Instivate is a technology innovator headquartered in Seattle’s Central District. It offers technology for online content and advertising, audience measurement and local blogging.

Instivate is the parent company of Neighborlogs, a Seattle-based community news blogging platform and ad-sharing network that was launched in June 2007.

“Neighborlogs is a free, hosted placeblogging platform with an integrated local advertising service,” it says. “It is designed for local content entrepreneurs and organizations to document the news and information that matters most in their communities and gives local businesses a relevant, engaged audience for their advertising messages.”

More recently Instivate announced it would focus exclusively on its local ad network in Seattle, http://seattleindieads.com, our advertising tools and data services. “We’ll be continuing with our local and regional ad sales efforts,” it said, “and helping all of the existing members of that network to better monetize their great local content.”

http://www.neighborlogs.com/2010/10/29/goodbye-neighborlogs-hello-seattleindieadscom

Journalism That Matters Pacific Northwest http://journalismthatmatters.org/

Ten initiatives were either spawned or invigorated at the Journalism That Matters Pacific Northwest gathering in January 2009. Slightly more than a year later, nine of those are moving forward. The initiatives, with links to their current status, are:

KING 5 <http://www.king5.com/>
KING 5’s website reflects its newscasts and is an audience leader, but it has not yet broken new ground online. That could change because the station hired Mark Briggs as director of digital media in July 2010.  <http://www.king5.com/community/news-releases/KING-5-Hires-Director-of-Digital-Media-97515184.html>

Briggs is a journalist-turned-entrepreneur. He is the author of two books, “Journalism 2.0” and “Journalism Next,” with a third book on entrepreneurism in journalism in the works.

KOMO-TV and Radio <http://www.komonews.com/>

In August 2009 Fisher Communications Inc., parent of KOMO-TV and KOMO Radio, launched “KOMO Communities,” a network of 43 hyperlocal neighborhood websites in the Greater Seattle area. Today the network includes 21 sites in the city of Seattle and 34 in communities through much of Western Washington.

Promotion for the sites says, “Go beyond the region’s headlines and find the latest news in your community. This is the place for conversations to start and communities to connect on important topics and issues. Your community news—be a part of it.” <http://www.komonews.com/communities>

KUOW 94.9 FM < http://www.kuow.org/>

The NPR Seattle affiliate is highly regarded for its radio programming, but its website is mostly a guide to that programming. The station says it employs 63 full–time employees; plus freelance reporters, part–time staff, interns and work–study students. It also says it produces 20 hours of news and information a week. It has started a “Public Insight Network,” which is still in relative infancy.

KUOW has done some powerful investigative work recently, including a project with the Seattle Times about injuries to combat soldiers from carrying gear that is too heavy http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2014209155_weightofwar06.html and a report on hospital executive pay http://www.kuow.org/program.php?id=22556

Living Voters Guide < http://www.livingvotersguide.org/>

The Living Voters Guide is noteworthy for how it was funded and how it was developed. It is one activity of a National Science Foundation-funded research project to design, build and test new software systems to better support civic engagement and participation. It has been developed by a team of researchers and civic engagement practitioners, including CityClub of Seattle, the Design, Use, Build group at the University of Washington, the Center for Communication and Civic Engagement, also at UW, and Reinspire Me LLC.

The developers are interested in other ways of using the software, including in the area of news and information.

msnbc.com local <http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22454530>

Msnbc.com Local aggregates top story links from a variety of local sites, notably KING5.com.

MyNorthwest.Com <http://www.mynorthwest.com/>

The news on MyNorthwest.com is mostly from the Associated Press. The blogs are from three Bonneville broadcast outlets – News Talk 77.3 KIRO FM, 770 KTTH The Truth talk radio, and 710 ESPN Seattle.

Newsvine.com <http://www.newsvine.com/>

Seattle-based Newsvine was launched in July 2005 and went public in spring 2006.  It was acquired by msnbc.com in October 2007.

It says: “At Newsvine, you can read stories from established media organizations like the Associated Press and ESPN as well as individual contributors from all around the world. Placement of stories is determined by a multitude of factors including freshness, popularity, and reputation. Contribution is open to all, and editorial judgement is in the hands of the community.”

Next Door Media http://www.nextdoormedia.com/>

Next Door Media says it presents “news powered by your neighborhood,” a network of 10 news sites and a regional portal serving the North Seattle area. Two journalists, Kate and Cory Bergman, both of whom had worked at KING 5 TV and Northwest Cable News, founded it in 2008.

“Unlike many blogs,” it says, “Next Door Media’s sites are authored by experienced journalists who produce original, objective news coverage. Next Door Media’s MyBallard.com won a 2009 Online Journalism Award for community collaboration, beating the LA Times and Miami Herald for the award. And PhinneyWood.com won the national Sigma Delta Chi Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for deadline reporting.”

The operators say their network grew 37 percent in 2010, serving up 13.3 million page views for the year. “Every site grew in the double digits, and Queen Anne View jumped 57% last year alone!” it said. “Next Door Media sites now reach 200,000 unduplicated unique users every month.”

Kate Bergman also created Seattle Chic, an urban shopping site. http://www.seattlechic.com/

Patch.com < http://www.patch.com/>

AOL’s Patch network of local news sites was operating in 14 Washington State communities roughly along the I-5 corridor from Tacoma to Everett, as of February 2011. Its first site was launched October 10, 2010, in University Park. Its Seattle regional editor is Mike Lewis, formerly with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Public Eye Northwest http://publiceyenorthwest.org/

Under development for more than a year, PEN launched this year as an independent nonprofit dedicated to boosting digital civic literacy, building community news creation capacity, and best practices in voluntary government transparency. It works to surface and distribute important public sector data and to assist citizens in engaging with government data.

PEN’s founder and executive director is Matt Rosenberg, “a former Seattle Times op-ed columnist and think tank senior fellow, with 27 years experience in journalism, strategic communications, issue advocacy and public policy.” A board of 12 directors from business, technology, new media, legacy media, law, government, education, civic engagement and development oversees it.

A key PEN program is an ongoing government transparency project called the Public Data Ferret, which was launched in March 2010. PEN uses the Ferret project as a “tool for teaching digital civic literacy and building community capacity for content co-creation centered around government.” The Ferret project also highlights the importance of government information that’s already available online, and produces material that enriches news ecosystems. http://socialcapitalreview.org/public-data-ferret/

Publicola < http://publicola.com/>

Publicola, which calls itself “Seattle’s News Elixir,” was launched in January 2009, it says, “to fill the void created by the collapse of print media. The site originally focused on state government in Olympia, where the press corps has been decimated.” Its founder and editor is Josh Feit, a longtime editor and reporter for The Stranger, an alternative weekly in Seattle. It is funded by advertising and by investors.

The site says of itself:

“While we wear our urban green politics on our sleeves and aren’t afraid to state our opinions, we’re also a nonpartisan site that prioritizes a more balanced and nuanced approach to reporting than the screechy blogsophere.

People were afraid that blogging would change journalism. Instead, journalism is changing blogging. PubliCola is a blog about Seattle, by journalists.

“Publius Valerius PubliCola was the alias for the authors of the Federalist Papers — the original bloggers.”

Its staff list shows an editor in addition to Feit and five staff writers.

Puget Sound Business Journal < http://www.bizjournals.com/seattle/>

Puget Sound Business Journal is part of the American City Business Journals, which is in more than 40 markets nationally. PSBJ offers print and online coverage of 16 industries, a host of networking events and expos, a “book of lists” of industry data in several formats, a regional business directory and various other business-related services and publication. Its staff list includes 15 people.

In 2010, its investigative series about the failure of Washington Mutual won several national awards and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

PugetSoundOff.org <http://www.pugetsoundoff.org/>

Puget SoundOff is an online space “created by and for youth” to encourage young people to be involved in their communities. It was developed in 2007 by an inaugural PSO Youth Council with the City of Seattle Department of Information Technology, University of Washington Center for Communication and Civic Engagement and Metrocenter YMCA.

Real Change <http://www.realchangenews.org/>

Real Change is a self-described activist weekly newspaper that “exists to create opportunity and a voice for low-income people while taking action to end homelessness and poverty.” Founded in 1994, it is sold on the street by homeless people, and claims to have a current circulation of 18,000 per issue.

Reel Grrls <http://www.reelgrrls.org/>

Real Grrls is about “empowering young women from diverse communities to realize their power, talent, and influence through media production.” It offers workshops for teenage girls in animation, cinematography, script writing and more.

Sea Beez <http://seabeez.com/>

Sea Beez is a “hive for hyperlocal ethic news.” Dr. Julie Pham, founder and director, says it focuses on building capacity in ethnic media. Sponsors are New America Media and the City of Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods. Seattle is blessed with many ethnic media outlets, and more than 30 have committed to participating in the program, which includes forums, workshops, citizen journalism and developing a common website so that participating media outlets can share news content and gain wider readership. http://seabeez.com/participants/ethnic-media-outlets/

Seattle Channel < http://www.seattlechannel.org>

The Seattle Channel is a government-access channel granted to the City of Seattle under Federal law for the purpose of cablecasting government television programs. Programming decisions are based solely on content, and are made independent of the mayor and the City Council. The Seattle Channel website offers streaming video and an archive featuring video on demand of all programs. The cable station and website offer coverage of many community events.

SeattleCrime.com <http://seattlecrime.com/>

SeattleCrime.com is exactly what the name implies, an aggregation of news reports from police blotters and various news sources. Its “about” page says:

 

“Welcome to Seattlecrime.com, your new go-to site for news about cops, crooks, neighborhood crime, and all (or at least most) other aspects of law enforcement in Seattle.

“Currently, all of our potentially libelous content is being produced by unemployed (some would say unemployable) crime reporter Jonah Spangenthal-Lee. If you’re interested in becoming part of the Seattlecrime.com team, or want to advertise with us, send us an e-mail.”

The site offers a list and map of 911 events, membership signup and an iPhone app so citizens can provide reports.

Seattle Gay Blog <http://seattlegayblog.blogspot.com/>

The blog describes itself as the blog of the Seattle Gay News staff. Seattle Gay News also has a website that is essentially a link to content from the print publication, which is a weekly arts and entertainment publication founded in 1977. http://www.sgn.org/

Seattlepi.com http://www.seattlepi.com/

Michelle Nicolosi, executive producer of Seattlepi.com, says, “Nearly two years after seattlepi.com became the first major metro daily newspaper to go online-only, I’m happy to report that our readership is stronger than ever. We serve around 4 million readers per month, and our local readership is seeing strong growth.

“We haven’t made significant changes to our editorial mission since we launched in March 2009. Our goal is to be Seattle’s home page — to reach as many local readers as we can with an engaging mix of staff content, partner content, content from our community and ‘curated’ content that tells the reader about the interesting stories they can find on other local, national and international sites.”

The site’s staff of about 20 people includes editorial cartoonist David Horsey, winner of two Pulitzer Prizes. Its “about” section calls out politics, crime blog, Microsoft, Boeing and sports as areas of coverage. In addition to many contributed blogs, the site has content partnerships with Sound Publishing, KOMO-TV, Q13Fox and others.

Seattle PostGlobe <http://seattlepostglobe.org/>

Seattle PostGlobe was launched by former journalists at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer after it stopped printing in March 2009. It says it is “a nonprofit news organization devoted to independent reporting for changing times. We focus on social- justice journalism that links Seattle to the world, including issues and countries often ignored by mainstream media.” It lists a core staff of five, with other contributors, many of whom worked for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer when it stopped printing.

The PostGlobe site says, “In the beginning we worked as volunteers. Today, we’re still mostly volunteers. But, thanks to your donations, we’ve been able to begin paying a little — but far less than what it will take to get off unemployment. We’ll keep the Seattle PostGlobe running as long as we can, but we’re going to need your support, as contributors to our news site and as financial contributors.”

The Seattle Times < http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/home/index.html>

The Seattle Times website is a full menu. In addition to news, features and commentary, the site includes a host of staff-produced blogs, photo galleries, videos, interactive databases and regular live chats.

The Times began a string of news partnerships with the local blogs — funded through a grant from the Knight Foundation – in August 2009. Its announcement said the partnerships had four goals:

1.       Enhancing communication between the respective web sites and the Seattle Times, and discovering ways to share news tips and collaborate on future newsgathering.

2.       Linking to and promoting stories on partner sites when it may help fill coverage holes.

3.       Exploring tools that could enhance advertising opportunities across the partner sites.

4.       Learning about how such partnerships can benefit the respective sites.

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/flatpages/local/neighborhoodnewspartners.html

Today the list of partnerships is growing toward 40. Beyond neighborhood and community news sites, the partners include topical sites covering everything from hiking and sailing to open government and health. http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/flatpages/local/neighborhoodnewsfeeds.html

Bob Payne, The Times’ director of communities, says, “We have an endless list of ideas on how to improve the partnerships, so we’re pretty bullish on its future prospects. For example, we recently held an in-house training session for site editors, and also announced a program with Poynter to offer a subsidized journalism training module to site editors.”

The Times won a Pulitzer Prize in 2010 for breaking news in covering the shooting deaths of four police officers. It also won the Innovator of the Year Award from the Associated Press Managing Editors for its use of digital and social media in the shooting story and for partnering with neighborhood blogs in its Networked Journalism Project. In addition to an iPhone news app, The Times developed apps for special content about University of Washington football and basketball.

Seattle Transit Blog < http://seattletransitblog.com/>

How much can a nonprofit blog created by a handful of contributors tell you about transit in Greater Seattle? Would you believe everything?

“The blog also focuses on density and the urban form, and other forms of alternative transportation like bicycling and walking,” it says.

Seattle Weekly http://www.seattleweekly.com/

The Seattle Weekly is a free-distribution alternatively weekly that prides itself on having traced “Seattle’s cultural arc” since the days before Microsoft, grunge, double-tall lattes, Amazon.com, soaring downtown condos and fusion cuisine. It was founded in 1976, back when. it says, “Seattle was a dreary little blip on America’s radar, best known for airplanes, clinical depression, acres of clams and rain — lots and lots of rain.”

Founded by David Brewster, The Weekly initially focused on arts, culture, politics and an ongoing re-examination of what Seattle might be if it grew up. The Seattle Weekly moved from paid to free circulation in 1995 and was sold in 1997 to Village Voice Media, which was acquired by New Times Media is 2005.

Today it offers a steady print diet of “best of” guides (including Best of the Web), extensive entertainment news and the occasional meaty cover story. Online it offers “The Daily Weekly,” a general interest news blog, “Reverb,” a music bog, and “Voracious,” a dining blog. It introduced a Flipbook format online in July 2009. http://www.seattleweekly.com/flipbook/

Seattlest <http://seattlest.com/>

Seattlest was launched in January 2005 as a local blog of local happenings. It is part of network of similar sites in major cities, including New York and London.

The Stranger http://www.thestranger.com/

The Stranger is a free alternative weekly tabloid that considers itself  “Seattle’s only newspaper.” Founded in 1991, it changed the alternative competitive landscape with a combination of free distribution, edgy writing and extensive entertainment coverage, as well as personal and classified ads. It includes a range of content, from serious government reporting to snarky social commentary. Its signature writer and one-time editor is Dan Savage, the nationally recognized commentator and author. In addition to “Savage Love,” a weekly column, he produces podcasts and a blog.

Anyone contemplating a move to Seattle should probably read The Stranger’s main blog, called The Slog, for a week or so. After that you’ll know whether this is your kind of town or not. http://slog.thestranger.com/blogs/slog/

Sportspress Northwest http://sportspressnw.com/

Art Thiel and Steve Rudman were franchise players as sports columnists for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Now they have teamed up again to co-found one of the area’s newest websites, Sportspress Northwest, “where insight is our focus and content is king.” Their “about” page says:

We co-founded Sportspress Northwest Inc., and assembled a staff of savvy, credentialed journalists, in the belief that there are decent livings to be made on the web providing quality commentary, reporting and research for a large, local market of sports passionates. Yes, it’s a niche appeal, but with more than 50 years of combined journalism experience between us, we know this place has the capital, advertisers, sponsors and consumers to help experienced local journalists sustain a new effort at entrepreneurial journalism for a popular subject.

The SunBreak http://thesunbreak.com

The SunBreak is an online magazine that bills itself as a “conversation with Seattle.” It was launched in September 2009 and says of itself:

“We’re here to talk with everyone from politicos, chefs, and athletes, to artists, filmmakers, musicians, scientists, and neighborhood activists. Think of us as a little ray of sun shining through that infamous Seattle chill — a group of friendly people who won’t keep quiet and mind our own business. We encourage like-minded Curious Georges to post to the site, but if you’d rather just sit back and read, we won’t judge. Thanks for stopping in!”

TechFlash < http://www.techflash.com/>

Tech Flash is an online news site dedicated to covering the technology industry in the Pacific Northwest. It is a product of the Puget Sound Business Journal, but it was the brainchild of two Post-Intelligencer business reporters. Founders John Cook, executive editor, and Todd Bishop, managing editor, made the leap to online-only in October 2008, even before the P-I did in March 2009.

Cook, whose Twitter handle is @johnhcook, said in an e-mail, “High quality content built around an engaged community seems to be working pretty well for us. We are in a unique situation where our audience is desired by advertisers and they are early adopters of new media. Our community of readers is strong, and we work hard to engage with them and provide them high quality content on a daily basis.”

TechFlash holds The Flashies, an annual Newsmakers Awards program that recognizes achievements in 15 categories, including newcomer of the year, “do-gooder” of the year and tech move/hire of the year. <http://www.techflash.com/seattle/2010/12/and-the-flashie-goes-to.html>

(Update: Cook and Bishop left TechFlash in March 2011 to form their own site, Geekwire. <http://www.geekwire.com/>

Washington News Council < http://wanewscouncil.org/ >

WNC describes itself as “an independent, nonprofit, statewide organization whose members share a common belief that fair, accurate and balanced news media are vital to our democracy.” It was founded in 1998. John Hamer, its president and executive director, has been at the helm since its inception. He is a former associate editorial-page editor at the Seattle Times and previously associate editor with Congressional Quarterly/Editorial Research reports in Washington, D.C.

The WNC’s early emphasis was on vetting complaints against media organizations concerning inaccurate or unfair stories, along the model of the now-defunct Minnesota News Council. In recent years it has developed a broad range of projects to emphasize quality, integrity and public engagement with journalism through an interactive website with online community discussion, an active blog, a live Twitter feed and Facebook/LinkedIn pages.

The WNC funds journalism scholarships through donations and some proceeds from an annual Gridiron West Dinner.

In January 2011, it announced successfully matching a Gates Foundation challenge grant of $100,000. < http://wanewscouncil.org/2011/01/19/woo-hoo-we-met-the-gates-foundation-challenge/ > The WNC was named organization of the year by the Municipal League of King County. http://wanewscouncil.org/2011/01/27/wnc-named-organization-of-the-year-by-municipal-league/

Among the News Council’s projects in the Online Media Guide, which has a database of more than 800 websites. <http://wanewscouncil.org/?s=online+media+guide>

Another WNC project is the TAO of Journalism pledge and seal, a means to encourage news outlets, bloggers, hyperlocal news sites, freelancers, newsletters and civic groups. to emphasize Transparency, Accountability and Openness. <http://taoofjournalism.org/pledge.cfm>

West Seattle Blog < http://westseattleblog.com/>

Founded in 2005 by the wife and husband team of Tracy Record and Patrick Sand, the West Seattle Blog is easily one of the most watched, talked about and celebrated hyperlocal news sites in the country. It epitomizes the idea of “regular people” working amazing hardly to cover everything that moves in their community.

Record, who handles content, was a pioneer in digital news at the Walt Disney Internet Group and KOMO-TV. She quit her job as news director at KCPQ-TV to work more than full time for WSB. Patrick, who handles sales, has been in ad sales for more than 25 years and was also a pioneer in Internet advertising. They list their content collaborators as EVERYONE in West Seattle.

Xconomy <http://www.xconomy.com/seattle/>

Seattle is one of five cities with Xconomy websites. The site was launched in 2008 and its “about” page says:

“Xconomy is dedicated to providing business and technology leaders with timely, insightful, close-to-the-scene information about the local personalities, companies, and technological trends that best exemplify today’s high-tech economy.

“Our goal is to become the authoritative voice on the exponential economy, the realm of business and innovation characterized by exponential technological growth and responsible for an increasing share of productivity and overall economic growth.

“We plan to deliver this valuable content through a unique global network of localized blogs, events, conferences and other initiatives designed to better connect people and ideas.”

Part of its business model is hosting Xconomist Forums.

  1. Pryne, Eric. “The last deadline: Seattle’s oldest newspaper goes to press for the final time.” http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/businesstechnology/2008871618_seattlepi17.html. The Seattle Times. December 16, 2009.
  2. Teichrob, Ruth. “Eighteen Months Later: What’s Happened to Seattle P-I Journalists.” Safety Net Blog. http://safetynetseattle.blogspot.com/2011/01/eighteen-months-later-whats-happened-to.html., January 3, 2011.
  3. Durkin, Jessica, Glaisyer, Tom, Hadge, Kara. “An Information Community Case Study: Seattle.” http://mediapolicy.newamerica.net/sites/newamerica.net/files/policydocs/SeattleCaseStudy.pdf New America Foundation. Release 2.1 issued June 2010, updated November 2010.
  4. Woyke, Elizabeth. “America’s Most Wired Cities.” http://www.forbes.com/2010/03/02/broadband-wifi-telecom-technology-cio-network-wiredcities.html Forbes.com. March 2.
  5. “Greater Seattle Civic Health Index 2010: Success and the Work Ahead,” at 3. http://www.seattlecityclub.org/publications Seattle CityClub. November 11, 2010. Date visited: March 3, 2011.
  6. “America’s Most Literate Cities, 2010.” http://www.ccsu.edu/page.cfm?p=8227 Central Connecticut State University. January 10, 2011.
  7. Durkin, at 2.
  8. Caggiano, Jacob. “Online Media Guide – Washington State.” http://wanewscouncil.org/?s=online+media+guide January 25, 2011. Date visited: March 3, 2011.
  9. The Seattle Times. http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/flatpages/local/neighborhoodnewsfeeds.html. February 19, 2011.
  10. The Seattle Times. “Invisible Families: The homeless you don’t see.” http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/flatpages/local/invisiblefamilies.html Date visited: March 3, 2011
  11. Doughton, Sandi, Heim, Kristi. “Does Gates funding of media taint objectivity.” http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2014280379_gatesmedia.html. The Seattle Times. February 19, 2011.
  12. Caggiano.
  13. KING 5. “The Seattle Times and KING 5 partner to create local online advertising network.” http://www.king5.com/community/news-releases/The-Seattle-Times-and-KING-5-partner-to-create-local-online-advertising-network—105697913.html News release. October 25, 2010. Date visited: March 3, 2011.
  14. All of the JTMPNW conversations were captured in notes posted on the Internet, videos and in illustrations that charted the ideas expressed, and are available online at the JTMPNW Wiki. http://www.newshare.com/wiki/index.php/Jtm-pnw A report of the event is available online. http://www.jtmpnw.org/knightReport.cfm
  15. The initiatives, with links to their current status, are listed in the appendix to this paper.

A Year in the News 2010

Disaster, Economic Anxiety, but Little Interest in War

Mark Jurkowitz, Tom Rosenstiel and Amy Mitchell of the Project for Excellence in Journalism

Two weeks into the year, a devastating earthquake struck Haiti and dominated the news in the United States for a month. As coverage began to subside, the climactic legislative battle over remaking the American health care system took on a feverish quality—and began its own month-long control of the news. In April, an oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico commandeered the media’s attention all the way into August. And from Labor Day to Nov. 2, the midterm elections held the media’s fascination far beyond anything else.

But throughout the year, one story remained a constant—the narrative morphing and evolving to be sure, but usually conveying the same underlying message of apprehension: The No. 1 story of the year was the weakened state of the U.S. economy.

By year’s end, the economy registered among the top four stories every week studied by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism in its weekly News Coverage Index. And the attention given the story was remarkably consistent. Economic news accounted for between 13% and 17% of the overall coverage studied in every quarter of 2010.

Yet, it was often overshadowed by bigger breaking news events. Although it was the first or second story 41 weeks out of 52, the economy filled more than 30% of the news studied only once. Health care, the election and the oil spill together passed that threshold nine times.

For its part, the public paid keen attention to the nervous economic news. The news media’s No. 1 story of the year consistently generated high levels of attention among news consumers, even as the major breaking stories of 2010 garnered more public interest for many weeks this year.

But surveys by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press also found divergence between the media’s and public’s news priorities. (A fuller report on the findings of the News Interest Index is here.)

In the case of several major events—the Haiti earthquake, health care reform legislation, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill—news consumers maintained high levels of interest even after press attention had diminished. And at the other end of the spectrum, the public displayed considerably less interest than the media in several “inside the Beltway” stories, especially the comments that led to the dismissal of the U.S. commander in Afghanistan.

New media, meanwhile, had a varied news agenda. The blogosphere generally mirrored the mainstream media, according to PEJ’s research, while Twitter users were far more interested in technology and international affairs.

These are among the findings of a review of three different research efforts by the Pew Research Center. The weekly News Coverage Index by the Project for Excellence in Journalism measures the news the public was exposed to from the mainstream media. PEJ’s New Media Index tracks the conversation in blogs, the top news videos on YouTube and the discussion of news on Twitter. And the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press’ weekly New Interest Index survey measures the public reaction to that news coverage.

These complementary measures offer a unique look at the public conversation in the United States by tracking, in effect, the media stimulus and the public response to the news.

PEJ’s News Coverage Index monitors news in 52 different mainstream media outlets from print, online, cable, network broadcast and radio. The New Media Index monitors commentary on millions of news-focused blogs as identified by the web tracking site Icerocket, and the leading news topics on Twitter as identified by the web tracking site Tweetmeme.

Among the findings:

Top 10 Stories of 2010

No one story dominated the news in 2010. The biggest story, the economy, commanded just 14% of the news studied, the lowest number for a top story of the year since PEJ began its comprehensive real-time study of the news agenda in 2007.

While rarely an overwhelming focus of coverage, the economy demonstrated remarkable staying power in 2010. And in so doing, the economic narrative that began in the fall of 2008 with the collapse of Lehman Brothers was the No. 1 story for the second year in a row.

The No. 2 story of 2010 was the midterm election season (10%), followed by the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill (7%). The debate over health care reform (5%) and the war in Afghanistan (4%) rounded out the top-five stories.

The economy was a staple of the news agenda in 2010. It registered as the No. 1 or No. 2 story in 41 of 52 weeks studied. The high water mark, 41%, came late in the year, the week of December 6-12, when President Obama and the Republicans struck a deal on extending tax cuts.

One major reason for the steady drumbeat of attention was the large number of economic indicators and storylines—from the health of the job market to the housing market to the financial sector.  Coverage of the second-biggest economic storyline, the employment picture, (the leading storyline was tax policy) remained fairly high throughout most of the year.

But other key themes spiked at different points in 2010. Attention to the financial sector, for example, peaked in the first quarter (at 17% of the economic newshole). The concern then focused on the financial health of banks and the implementation of new credit card rules. The subject of federal oversight peaked during the second quarter (22% of the economic newshole) when Congress tackled the Wall Street reform legislation.

Recession fears took up the slack in the third quarter (8% of the economic coverage). Growth numbers were revised downward, and analysts started talking about a “double dip” recession. Attention to the job market also jumped to a high water mark (20%) in those three months. In the last quarter of 2010, the subject of taxes took off (33%) as Obama and the Republicans hammered out the compromise on the Bush-era tax cuts.

The economy generated somewhat less interest on television news than in other sectors. It generated the most attention in newspapers (16% of the front-page coverage), followed by radio (15%) and online (14%). The subject accounted for 11% of the airtime studied on cable and 10% on network news.

Since the economic crisis exploded into public view more than two years ago, newspapers have consistently devoted the most coverage to the subject. But several factors may help explain the lower levels of TV attention. For one thing, subjects such as national debt and employment and budget issues don’t readily provide television-friendly graphics and visuals.

On cable, which thrives on ideological combat, the lack of pitched political battles over the economy—in contrast, say, to the major stimulus fight in early 2009—may have contributed to the relative lack of coverage in 2010.

The Press and the Public: Divergent and Dovetailing News Agendas

On some big stories—most notably the economy—the media and American news consumers were on the same page in 2010. But the media’s interest in a number of major events subsided long before the public’s, and citizens did not share the press fascination with Beltway-centric stories.

According to the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press—which conducts national surveys to measure which news subjects are receiving the most public attention—U.S. news consumers and news outlets both maintained a consistently close watch on economic news.

Indeed, economic news received the most or second most public attention in 32 of the 45 weeks in which public attention to the topic was tracked.

Public attention was also riveted on such big events as the Haiti earthquake, the health care reform battle, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the midterm elections.  Press coverage matched interest initially, but the public stayed focused on three of these stories—Haiti, health care reform and the oil spill—long after media attention had shifted to other emerging stories.

Just three weeks after the most intense focus on the Haiti earthquake, for example, coverage of the aftermath constituted just 8% of the newshole, exceeded by media attention to the economy and possible problems with Toyota vehicles. Yet 38% of the public still said they were following news of Haiti more closely than anything else.

And less than a month after the July 15 capping of the Deepwater Horizon, 44% of Americans continued to say they were following news about the spill and its aftermath more closely than any other topic. Yet just 3% of news coverage focused on the spill’s aftermath, as the press focus turned toward the upcoming midterm elections.

The year also proved again that Americans typically show less interest in political or Washington stories than do the media. That was the case with the resignation of top Afghanistan commander, General Stanley McChrystal, and the saga of Shirley Sherrod, the Department of Agriculture official who was forced to resign after a conservative website ran an edited version of a speech she delivered to an NAACP audience.

Similarly, the 2010 midterm elections often drew far more press than public attention. Though the public eventually took a strong interest in late October, there were instances earlier in which coverage significantly outweighed interest.

During the week starting Sept. 13, for example, the media devoted 30% of the newshole to election news—including Christine O’Donnell’s upset win in the Delaware GOP Senate primary. But that week, only 11% of the public said they followed election news most closely, while 26% rated news about the economy as most important to them.

Blogs and Twitter: Two Very Different News Agendas

The agenda in new media varied in some respects from the mainstream press and echoed it in others in 2010.

Bloggers and the mainstream media agreed on four of the top five stories—the economy, the midterm elections, the health care debate and the war in Afghanistan, according to PEJ’s New Media Index.

Yet the index—which studies which news-related subjects bloggers and Twitter users are linking to—found that the discussion about the news on Twitter was fundamentally different. None of the top five mainstream or blogger subjects made the Twitter list of five top stories.

The agenda on blogs was remarkably close to that of the mainstream media, according to PEJ’s research. Blogs shared nine of the top 10 stories in 2010 with the mainstream media. That list included the economy (10%), the 2010 elections (5%) and evaluations of the Obama Administration (4%). The only differences were that the bloggers included the tea party (at 2%) and the mainstream media included the Haiti earthquake (at 2%).

Not so on Twitter. The top four stories in Twitter feeds in 2010 were all about marquee brands in the digital era: Apple (13%), Google (9%), Twitter itself (7%) and Facebook (also 7%).

There was also more international flavor to the Twitter communication. Four of the top 10 subjects for the year involved overseas issues, including the war in Afghanistan (2%), the Haiti earthquake (2%), the European economy (2%) and elections in the UK (1%). One other top 10 story on Twitter, the WikiLeaks document disseminations (2%), also had a significant international angle.

The dominance of technology topics on Twitter also suggests that the platform has a different function than the mainstream press or even blogs. At least for now, users employ Twitter in part as a consumer affairs forum, to publicize, share and critique new gadgets and advances.

By contrast, the bloggers focused on the news studied by PEJ were much more closely tied to events that mirrored the mainstream media agenda. Much of the bloggers’ conversation tended to be a debate, and often an ideological one, and hot-button issues such as global warming and President Obama’s performance are often prominent.

In that way, the findings suggest, the blogosphere partly resembles an online version of cable or radio talk shows. That is rarely seen on Twitter, according to the research.

Yet all this may evolve in the years ahead as users find new platforms and technologies and as social media, such as Facebook, becomes an even more prominent means of exchange.

The 2010 Midterms: A Tea Party Tale

In the mainstream press, the election became a major story, registering second overall, filling 10% of the coverage studied for the year. But much of that was compressed from Labor Day to Election Day. During that period, indeed, the election made up nearly a third (30%) of the newshole studied by PEJ in the mainstream media.

The key element of that coverage was the emerging political movement that coalesced around opposition to President Obama and an expansion of government and that helped propel the GOP electoral wave.

Indeed the biggest election storyline from September 13-November 2, at 13% of overall election coverage, was the impact of the tea party and one of its leading figures, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. They accounted for more coverage than the role and impact of President Obama himself, even though many observers saw the election as a referendum on the president. And they garnered twice the attention devoted to the impact on the campaign of the two top domestic issues—the economy and health care.

Much of that coverage was driven by tea party candidates who found themselves in the media’s sometimes unwelcome glare. Exhibit A was Christine O’Donnell, the Delaware Senate candidate. O’Donnell, who took some controversial policy positions, quickly began generating attention for decade-old comments about masturbation and “dabbl[ing] into witchcraft.” Even though she was soundly beaten in the general election, O’Donnell was a lead newsmaker in 8% of all the election stories from September 6 to November 2. The only campaign figure to get more attention, Barack Obama, wasn’t on the ballot.

Other than Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and California Governor Jerry Brown, the rest of the 10 top election newsmakers were Republicans. They included a number of tea party favorites, such as Senate candidates Sharron Angle in Nevada, Rand Paul in Kentucky and Joe Miller in Alaska as well as New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino. A long shot candidate who was routed on November 2, Paladino generated headlines for derogatory remarks about homosexuals and a heated confrontation with a New York Post reporter. Indeed, with the exception of Rand Paul and Lisa Murkowski, who won a write-in campaign, all those GOP candidates lost on Nov. 2.

Indeed, a significant portion of the coverage of candidates like O’Donnell and Paladino had a gawking, quasi-voyeuristic component, with the media drawn to controversy and color. That didn’t necessarily add much depth to the public understanding of the tea party phenomenon. And a qualitative evaluation of election coverage finds that in much of the media, there was more of a fierce partisan argument about what the tea party was than a journalistic exploration of that subject.

The Year of the Disaster

On April 20, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded several dozen miles off the Louisiana Coast, killing 11 people. By the time the gushing leak was finally stanched, the BP oil spill had emerged as the No. 3 story of the year (7% of the newshole).

The Gulf oil spill was a slow-motion catastrophe that ran counter to the typical pattern of “one-week wonder” coverage, when the media descend on a disaster en masse and depart soon after. For the first 100 days after the rig explosion, the spill was easily the nation’s top story, at 22% of the newshole, as the media pursued three major storylines—events in the Gulf, the role of BP and the role of the Obama Administration.

Indeed the oil spill—when combined with other major events such as the devastating Haiti earthquake, the West Virginia mine accident that killed 29 and the Chilean mine drama that led to the rescue of 33—made 2010 a year of disasters.

The broad category of accidents and disasters accounted for 8% of the overall coverage in 2010, quadrupling the 2009 coverage (2%). By way of comparison, disasters—both man-made and natural—generated almost as much attention in 2010 as foreign news directly involving the U.S.

The earthquake in Haiti, which struck on January 12 and began as the dominant story of the new year, filled 21% of the newshole studied over the next four weeks. And although Haiti did not remain atop the news agenda for nearly as long as the oil spill, it too defied the “one-week wonder” pattern. For the year, the earthquake, whose effects remain a story, filled 2% of the newshole.

Two other significant 2010 disaster stories fit that traditional coverage mold more closely. The April 5 explosion that killed 29 at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia was the No. 1 story (17%) the week of April 5-11. By the following week, it had plunged to 3%. And the joyous rescue of the 33 Chilean miners was the No. 2 story from October 11-17, at 21% of the newshole. One week later, however, it was largely forgotten by the media (1%), perhaps further proof of the adage that good news is no news.

The War that Struggles for Headlines

One year ago, after coverage had grown markedly in the second half of 2009, Afghanistan finally seemed to have emerged as a major ongoing story. In 2010, however, the year when the nine-year-old war produced the highest U.S. death toll, Afghanistan receded from the headlines as the debate over U.S. policy quieted.

Coverage of Afghanistan accounted for 4% of the newshole this past year, down from 5% the previous year, a drop of 20%. Perhaps more tellingly, there was no sustained spike in coverage in 2010; in each of the four quarters it ranged only between 3% and 4% of the newshole.

What the numbers reveal is that despite the intensifying conflict on the ground, the war is not a big newsmaker without a major Washington component to the story.

It is difficult to argue that the public was clamoring for more press coverage of the conflict. The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press surveyed public interest in the subject on 18 different weeks in 2010. And in virtually none of those weeks did more than 10% of the public identify Afghanistan as the story they were following most closely. Consistent with this, midterm election exit polls found only 8% of respondents saying that Afghanistan was a voting consideration for them.

In 2009, almost half (46%) the Afghanistan coverage focused on the U.S. policy debate, a storyline driven by the Obama Administration’s months-long strategy review that culminated with a 30,000-person troop surge. In 2010, however, the policy debate accounted for only one-quarter of the coverage, a major reason for the drop in overall attention to Afghanistan.

Among the other 2010 Afghan storylines, the second-biggest (20%) involved the violence on the ground. But that was followed closely (16%) by what was essentially a one-time event, Obama’s June replacement of General Stanley McChrystal with General David Petraeus as top Afghanistan commander after Rolling Stone magazine published negative comments by McChrystal and his staff about the White House.

The attention devoted to the McChrystal episode, about one-sixth of the year’s Afghanistan coverage, again reflects the media’s interest in storylines involving political intrigue.

Going forward, coverage could well spike in 2011 as the administration approaches an initial summer deadline for beginning troop withdrawals. But the lesson of 2010 seems to be that without a Beltway angle, the war in Afghanistan struggles to generate headlines.

Meanwhile, coverage of the almost-forgotten conflict in Iraq, still home to about 50,000 U.S. military personnel, dropped to a negligible 1% of the newshole in 2010—down from an already modest 2% in 2009.

CNN as the Cable Outlier

CNN is often described as the odd man out in the cable news wars. Unlike Fox and MSNBC—whose prime-time programming is dominated by ideological hosts who tilt right and left respectively—its prime-time programming does not feature a dominant ideology. Its evening lineup in 2010 was built around the valedictory season of celebrity interviewer Larry King and the on-scene reporting style of Anderson Cooper.

But a study of 2010 cable coverage reveals another major area in which CNN differentiates itself from its rivals. It has a dramatically different news agenda in terms of what it covers.

Take the two major domestic political stories. CNN devoted notably less of its time to these than its rivals. It spent 11% of the airtime studied on the midterm elections, substantially less than Fox (15%) and MSNBC (19%). The same pattern was true with the heated debate over health care, which accounted for only 4% of the CNN newshole, compared with 7% on Fox and 8% on MSNBC.

Yet CNN leaned far more heavily toward disaster stories that demanded on-scene field reporting. CNN devoted considerably more airtime to the devastating Haiti earthquake (5% for the year overall and 45% during the month after the quake) than did MSNBC and Fox (1% each for the year and 17% each for the first month). CNN’s coverage of the BP oil spill saga (12% for the year) also outstripped MSNBC’s (9%) and more than doubled Fox’s (5%).

A deeper look at the oil spill story reveals another distinction. More than half of CNN’s spill coverage (57%) focused on the breaking news aspects of the story—efforts at containment and cleanup and the impact of the disaster. And only about one-third (35%) was devoted to roles and culpability of both the federal government and BP.

Conversely both Fox (36%) and MSNBC (39%) filled only about one-third of their newshole with cleanup and containment coverage. But they devoted about one half (Fox 54% and MSNBC 53%) to the corporate and government roles and culpability storylines, which featured more of a Beltway component.

Broadly speaking, the coverage patterns seem to affirm CNN’s niche as more oriented toward big breaking news events with Fox and MSNBC more attuned to the political battlegrounds.

A Big Jump in Politics, a Big Drop in Health

Aside from major events or running stories, PEJ also examines coverage from the perspective of general topic categories. How much coverage is given to such subjects as education, lifestyle or religion, taking all the events of the year into account? Among other things, this way of measuring stories also looks at how each story about an event might have been oriented. A story about the faltering economy in the end could be a pure economic story, it could be a political story, or it might be built around human interest or more.

When looked at from that perspective, several significant patterns emerged in 2010. The year’s biggest topic, at 12% of the overall newshole, was politics. Thanks to the much-covered 2010 midterms, attention to that subject more than doubled from the 5% it registered in 2009. Coverage of disasters also increased dramatically in 2010, to 8% from only 2% in 2009.

Conversely, coverage of medicine and health fell in 2010 to 6%. One year earlier, when the debate over health care reform was in full swing and the world was worrying about an emerging H1N1 flu pandemic, it had been the No. 2 topic (at 11%). Topics such as business (4%) and crime (4%) fell from their 2009 levels of 7% and 6% respectively.

Coverage of celebrities and entertainment also dropped to less than 1% after having accounted for 2% in 2009, the year that the death of pop icon Michael Jackson was a major story.

Several other topics that have a significant impact on American life generated modest coverage in 2010. The environment, education, immigration and issues surrounding race, gender and gay rights each accounted for 2% of the newshole in 2010. In each case, that coverage was very similar to the 2009 levels, with the exception of immigration, which was less than 1% in 2009.

In 2010, only two topics—politics and foreign events that did not directly involve the U.S.—filled more than 10% of the newshole. That’s a less balanced media diet than in 2009, when five subjects ended up with double-digit coverage levels.