So this is an old story, but I just re-watched the series last night, and figured I should pass it along. News War is a four-part series produced by PBS that takes a glimpse at how journalism fits in with current politics and capitalism. It's as thoughtful a take on these issues as I've seen. I think that Part III is particularly strong and if you are interested in the future of journalism it's a must see. Here's Part III's decription from the series website:
In part three of "News War," entitled "What's Happening to the News,"FRONTLINE examines the mounting pressure for profits faced by America's network news divisions and daily newspapers, as well as growing challenges from cable television and the Internet. Bergman talks to network executives, newspaper editors and publishers, bloggers, Wall Street analysts and key players at Google and Yahoo! about the battle for market dominance in a rapidly changing world.
Bergman examines one of the biggest challenges facing the traditional news media: As their core audience grows older, the number of viewers and readers who want their news in a conventional format is shrinking. According to a study by New York University, a majority of Americans under age 25 get their news online or from programs like Comedy Central's The Daily Show. "To the extent that people look to us as a source of news," says David Javerbaum, The Daily Show's executive producer, "that is 100 percent indicative of other people's failure and not our success." While the broadcast news networks still command the largest share of the market, they are losing viewers and advertising revenue to cable.
To stop this slide in ratings, network executives are making changes that have rankled some top news anchors. When ABC executives proposed bringing in Late Show with David Letterman from CBS to replace Nightline on ABC, host Ted Koppel decided not to renew his contract. "To the extent that we are now judging journalism by the same standards that we apply to entertainment," says Koppel, "that may prove to be one of the greatest tragedies in the history of American journalism."
"What's Happening to the News" also goes inside the embattled newsroom of the Los Angeles Times, one of the few U.S. newspapers still covering major national stories. After his newsroom had already lost hundreds of jobs, managing editor Dean Baquet was told to lay off more reporters by the paper's owner, the Tribune Company. He refused and was fired. "The people who own newspapers … are beholden to shareholders," Baquet tells FRONTLINE. "They want for the paper to be highly profitable, and sometimes that view of what a newspaper is supposed to be and my view, which is that a newspaper is a public trust, sometimes they come into conflict." Charles Bobrinskoy, vice chairman at top Tribune investor Ariel Capital Management in Chicago, says the L.A. Times needs to rethink its mission. "There is a role for probably three national newspapers: The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and USA Today. Each has its own niche; all three are national newspapers. We don't think there's any demand for a fourth."
An even greater challenge to both newspapers and broadcast networks is the growing power of the Internet as a news distribution platform, pulling consumers and advertisers away from more traditional media. Jeff Fager, executive producer of 60 Minutes, talks about CBS's partnership with Yahoo! News. "We haven't seen the model for how broadcast journalism is going to end up on the Internet," he says. "But … it has to go there. I mean, you don't see anybody between 20 and 30 getting their news from the evening news; you see them getting it online."
But Internet news aggregators like Yahoo! and Google say that they are not in the business of creating content, relying instead on traditional news-gathering organizations. "We're in fact critically dependent upon the success of these newspapers," says Google CEO Eric Schmidt, referring to the Los Angeles Times and others. "We don't write the content. We're not in the content business. So anything that screws up their economics, that causes them to get rid of reporters, is a really bad thing."
If not newspapers, who will create content for the Internet news aggregators? Markos Moulitsas writes Daily Kos, one of the country's most popular blogs, which reportedly receives 3 to 5 million visitors per week. "People want to be part of the media," Moulitsas tells FRONTLINE. "They don't want to sit there and listen anymore. They're too educated. They're taught … to be go-getters and not to sit back and be passive consumers. And the traditional media is still predicated on the passive consumer model -- you sit there and watch."
But is this journalism? Former Los Angeles Times editor John Carroll worries that without the investigative skills of newspaper reporters, an important element of newsgathering may be lost. "I estimate … that 85 percent of the original reporting that's done in the United States is done by newspapers. They're the people who are going out and knocking on doors and rummaging through records and covering events and so on. And most of the other media that provide news to people are really recycling news that's gathered by newspapers."