The State of the Media: Top-line Takeaways from the Pew Research Center

Jun 21, 2014

When it comes to media, a lot has stayed the same, but a lot has changed, too. Amy Mitchell, the Director of Journalism Research at the Pew Research Center, gave the keynote address at the PRNDI conference this year. She titled her talk "The State of the News Media." In her presentation, she tracked the trajectory of traditional and digital media in the United States.

Here are some of the highlights: 

1. More Media-Makers, Sharper Focus

There are currently 5,000 full-time staff and editorial positions at nearly 500 digital news outlets (30 larger sites and 468 smaller ones). Two areas where these outlets are investing much of their focus are investigative and international coverage. Sites like Propublica and Buzzfeed are cornering the market. Propublica is utilizing data-driven coverage to engage their audience and Buzzfeed is preparing to open offices in Berlin, Tokyo, Mumbai and Mexico. While digital media outlets are major producers, they still account for a small percentage of media producers. Traditional media lost 16,200 jobs from 2003 to 2012 but it has also retained 38,000 full-time editorial newspaper employees.

2. New Money, Old Story

There’s a lot of new revenue finding its way to media organizations. This last year, venture capital brought $300 million to news organizations and foundation support added nearly $150 million. Annually, the news industry brings in between $63 to $65 billion. But philanthropic investment, audience donations, and other revenue still only make up less than half of those dollars next to advertising money.

3. What’s Social Media Got to Do With it?

News continues to be important. Whether you’re a researcher like Amy Mitchell or just a social-media junkie, it’s pretty clear. About two-thirds of adults use Facebook, half of them get news there. Less than a quarter of Twitter users are adults, but half of them get their news there. News consumption continues to be the top activity on tablets and smartphones right under sending emails. The real opportunity to reach new audiences is found in young adults who make up the majority of social media consumers. They’re getting news at greater portions than older generations, mainly because they understand digital spaces like no one before them.  18-29 year-olds represent the population that is consuming news most, across every medium (phones, Facebook, Twitter) except online news videos, where 30 to 49 years-old beat them out by only one point. Young adults are still consistently absent across the board when it comes to traditional media consumption.

The flip side of this, of course, is that digital media audiences have become more engaged in news than ever before. 50% of them have shared or reposted news, videos or pictures on social media and 46% have discussed news issues or events. Amy Mitchell noted in her keynote presentation that, “The idea of civic engagement in digital spaces is real.” And that this creates an opportunity to involve a new audience in the process of news dissemination.

4. Our Population is changing (And so is your audience!)

“Our country is going through dramatic changes in population,” noted Mitchell. “ Thinking about our audiences and about the makeup of our audiences who will be looking for news tomorrow, in three years, needs to be a part of our process.” She was referring mostly to the Hispanic population in the U.S. which has grown 48% from 2000 to 2011.

Since the beginning of that influx, 13 local and 6 national Hispanic news websites have launched to better serve them. Keeping this population in mind when thinking about content will be essential, Mitchell said, as we move toward growing our newsrooms and crafting our content.