- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 17, 2009

DOA? Not quite.

Indeed, the American news media were obsessed with the 2008 presidential election and overwhelmed by complex economic news, and must cope with the stark realities of flagging finances, fickle consumers and challenging technology.

It is “the bleakest” of times, said the 2009 State of the News Media Report, released Monday by the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

But the press is still standing. There is some promise in the future. In print, broadcast and online, the news media have an eager, evolving audience and a landscape brimming with vitality - not to mention huge amounts of news.

“We still do not subscribe to the theory that the death of the industry is imminent,” the 700-page report said, noting that newspapers in particular “remained profitable,” though their overall revenue declined 16 percent in the past 12 months.

“The problem facing American journalism is not fundamentally an audience problem or a credibility problem. It is a revenue problem - the decoupling of advertising from news,” the report said.

And it is a time bomb.

Thanks to global economic woes, news organizations have precious little time to figure out how to reinvent themselves and ultimately monetize their content as they woo readers, viewers and listeners who have been liberated from the old constraints of years past. News now comes in the delivery method of choice.

“Reinvention does not usually come from managers prudently charting course. It tends to come from risk-takers trying the unreasonable, seeing what others cannot, imagining what is not there and creating it,” the research said, suggesting that news organizations could opt for monthly access fees or online retail malls within their news sites.

Yet historic news values - credibility, accuracy, ethics, judgment - have not lost their place.

“The old norms of traditional journalism continue to have value,” the study said.

Questionable old habits persist.

The researchers found that the news media overall were transfixed with “minute-by-minute” horse-race coverage and reactive analysis of the election, though the public craved more meaningful, fact-driven news - and more explanation of the unfolding economic crisis. The public rated election coverage as “so-so.”

Political bias is also still present.

The study found that 70 percent of the public thought that the press wanted Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois to win the White House; 9 percent said the press favored Sen. John McCain of Arizona. There are also pronounced partisan divides among news consumers.

“The data offer some stark warnings about political ideology and what was once considered the gold standard among newspapers, the New York Times. More than a third of Republicans now say they believe almost nothing in the paper (36 percent versus 8 percent of Democrats),” the study said.

“Republicans, by contrast, are substantially more likely to give the highest credibility rating to the Fox (34 percent) than are Democrats (19 percent).”

The study was based on analyses of 70,000 news stories from 48 print, broadcast and online sources, along with multiple public opinion surveys. The research was funded by the Pew Research Center.

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