State of media: Old principles still pertinent

The Baltimore Sun

New technology is not automatically making for more democracy - nor is it pushing old media elites into the background, as many analysts have predicted.

While longtime giants of American media, such as Time Warner and NBC, are successfully adapting to the digital landscape, citizen journalists and bloggers are emulating old media "gatekeeper" ways by restricting access to other new voices once they get established online.

Those are among the findings of the State of the News Media 2008 report issued today by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, a research organization based in Washington. And they offer some good news for those who believe in the traditional values of journalism and the old-line companies that produce work based on those standards, according to Tom Rosenstiel, director of the project.

"Even with so many new sources, more people now consume what old media newsrooms produce, particularly from print, than before," the report says, citing the fact that the top 10 news Web sites are dominated by "old brands" like Time Warner (owner of CNN) and The New York Times.

Online, the old brands "command a larger share of the audience - are more of an oligarchy - than in the legacy media" of newspapers, TV, radio and magazines.

Cutting even harder against conventional wisdom are some of the report's conclusions on "citizen" Web sites and blogs.

"The array of citizen-produced news and blog sites is reaching a meaningful level," the report says. "But a study of citizen media contained in this report finds most of those sites do not let outsiders do more than comment on the site's own material, the same as most traditional news sites."

Few of the citizen sites "allow" the posting of news, information, community events or "even letters to the editor," according to the report.

While some news consumers are likely to be discouraged by the suggestion that they are "stuck with the oligarchy," Rosenstiel said Friday that journalists should be encouraged by the fact that the report clearly shows that the audience for traditional journalism "with the old values of verification" has not vanished.

"Had the audience just completely vanished, splintered into a million little pieces and decided that whatever The New York Times had to offer was not of interest, the prospects for sorting out an economic future for journalism would be much bleaker," he said.

Journalism still faces the problem of finding ways to make money off the audiences in new media - but, at least, the appetite for it remains.

"Monetizing the audience is a revenue problem, and that can be sorted out," Rosenstiel said. "The good news is that the audience is still there."

The report, which also chronicles trends in newspapers, radio, magazines and network and cable TV, can be found at journal ism.org.

david.zurawik@baltsun.com

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