Rob Horowitz: New Media Trends Accelerate

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


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It has now been about eight years since CBS President Leslie Moonves pronounced the death of the old top down gate-keeping role for journalism, with his famous comment, “There are no more single voice of God Anchors.” The trends that prompted Moonves’ statement have only accelerated since then, as the report released last week from Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, “The State of the Media 2013” richly documents.

The audience for the evening major network broadcast news continued its steady decline. Since 1980---when one out of two Americans households sat down at 6:30 PM to watch one of the network news shows--these broadcasts have lost more than half their audience; only about 1-in-5 households now watch and the ads for Geritol and Viagra speak as loudly as the demographic data in telling us that mortality means ratings will continue to fall. This dramatic reduction in viewers has been accompanied by a similarly steep decline in perceived credibility—a loss of trust that goes well beyond the broadcast news shows and characterizes the general attitudes of most viewers towards today’s news whether they receive it on cable television, read it in a newspaper or click on it online.

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The decline of the evening broadcast news is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to changes in consumption of media and attitudes towards it. Driven in large measure by the increased use of smart mobile phones, the consumption of online news continues to rise sharply. Across varying media platforms, it is the only source of growth in news consumption. As the Project for Excellence in Journalism reports: “The share of people who got news from one or more digital forms on an average day rises to 50%, just below the audience for television news (which combines cable, local and network), but ahead of print newspapers and radio (29% and 33%, respectively) Further, the role of social media and email as a source of news is rising, along with the other online sources; nearly one-in-five people say that they get news from social media and roughly one-in-six receive some of their news from email, according to the report.

This shift in eyeballs away from traditional newspapers and to a lesser extent, television screens accompanied by the loss of advertising dollars is driving the reduction in news staffs and editors, triggering an even quicker decline in the role of journalists as interpreters and determiners of what news the public consumes. As the report states, “A continued erosion of news reporting resources converged with growing opportunities for those in politics, government agencies, companies and others to take their messages directly to the public”. More and more, the newsmakers themselves are shaping and defining the news and this is even more the case online-where technology now enables elected officials and policy-makers to communicate directly and engage in two-way conversations with voters over the heads of media gatekeepers.

While there are certainly real costs to this transition including the decline in resources needed to conduct original reporting and investigative journalism, there is also much to cheer. For the interested news consumer thanks to the internet there is more information available and at ones finger tips than ever before. Further, the new online tools enable all of us to perform some of the old traditional journalistic gate-keeping role by sharing the stories and news items that we view as important with family, friends and acquaintances who when they receive this kind of information--especially online---often as the report states follow-up to get more information on the topic.

The growing importance of word-of-mouth—whether spread the old-fashioned way through conversation or online is a critical and positive development not only in the world of media, but in the interrelated area of politics. .Research shows that in a world in which choices have multiplied and the average person receives thousands of marketing messages each week and has countless media options, people are more likely to seek information from people they know and trust. Once known as opinion leaders, "navigators", a term coined by Bush Chief Strategist Matt Dowd, -- the one-in-10 of us who tell the rest of us where to shop, what new restaurant to try and who to vote for -- are now playing a larger role in our politics and it only makes sense that they are shaping our media choices as well. This development creates a bigger and more important role for citizens who want to step up and use the new online tools to maximize their reach and influence. In a democracy, that sure is a good thing.

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Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island



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