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Pew Center’s surprise finding on narrowing news agenda reflects public’s rejection of fact-centered journalism, craving for analysis and opinion 3/17/08

Posted by Steve Boriss in Opinion, Pew.
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The Pew Center’s annual report on the state of news media contains a surprising, but highly revealing finding that the authors were at a loss to explain. They noticed that an unusually small number of news topics are now dominating coverage, and chalked it up to shrinking newsroom resources. What they missed is that as you moved toward media that exhibit more of the defining characteristics of “New Media” — more “channels,” more fragmentation of audiences — the narrower the news agenda became. Specifically, the amount of space/time devoted to news topics other than the three biggest topics was most for Old Media’s network TV (62%) and newspapers (61%), followed by New Media’s radio (57%), cable TV (52%) and online (45%). On the surface, this makes no sense — why would media with more channels and thus more room for different topics offer fewer of them? But, it actually makes a great deal of sense.

For decades, Old Media has insisted on providing only one version of the truth, in the form of a series of news stories/angles essentially developed each day by the NY Times, Washington Post, and AP. They have also insisted on limiting news to “facts,” viewing opinion as a contaminant that gets in the way of truth. For a variety of reasons, the public is now rejecting this model, and is starved for supplemental information, analysis, opinion, and to feel part of like-minded news communities. They are particularly interested in hearing how those who share their world views make sense out of these Old Media news stories/angles. More content devoted to additional facts, analysis, opinion, and community-building naturally crowds out additional news topics. The Pew Center seems to suspect this trend toward fewer news topics represents a “dumbing-down” of the public. But in fact, it is a “wising-up.”

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