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Journalism Study Focuses on Baltimore

It looks like more bad press for—and in—Baltimore. The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism released a study today on the news "ecosystem" of our fair city. It focuses on how the news is reported and who reports it, how it's disseminated, and the roles of new versus traditional media. The results are pretty chilling. Among other things, the Pew report found that local media outlets are more likely than they once were to parrot the official party line and base their stories on press releases.

Even as traditional print media has dramatically reduced its coverage due to the downturn in advertising and the growth of online media, newspapers are still the main way that Baltimoreans get their news—even if they don't realize it. The study examined 53 different local news outlets (including City Paper), ranging from newspapers to radio stations to blogs, during the course of one week in July 2009. Researchers followed six major storylines—including Gov. Martin O'Malley's announcement of budget cuts, the auctioning of the Senator Theatre, and the shooting of two city police officers—and tracked which outlets broke the story as well as which provided ongoing reporting. The conclusion? While Twitter, local bloggers, and other outlets helped spread the word, fully 95 percent of the stories that contained new information came from traditional media, especially newspapers.

However, those papers aren't reporting like they used to.

For instance, the study found that local newspaper reporting on the governor's budget cuts was much less thorough when compared to the last time significant cuts were made in the state, under Gov. William Donald Schaefer in 1991. Area newspapers produced about half as many stories this time around. And 71 percent of the current stories on the budget were triggered by a statement from the governor. Goodbye enterprise reporting.

But mainstream media is still important in Baltimore, even when it isn't the first to get a scoop. For instance, Maryland Politics Watch, a local blog, broke a story last summer about a plan by the Maryland Transit Administration to put listening devices on buses to deter crime. The story sat there largely unnoticed until a Baltimore Sun reporter came upon it several days later. And as soon as the Sun reported the plan, the MTA killed it.


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