State of the Media: Why it still matters

I learned some very important lessons in journalism school (aka: Washington State University. Go Cougs!).

I learned the proper use of the comma. I learned never to use passive verbs. And I learned to follow the money. Always follow the money.

So what does that have to do with communicating about transportation? A lot, actually.

The annual Pew Research Center‘s Project for Excellence in Journalism published its annual State of the Media report last week. In the report is fascinating information about the decline of our national Fourth Estate.

In a national survey, Pew found that more than a third of news consumers have quit using a news outlet because it no longer provided the news and information they expected it to. Meanwhile, newsroom cutbacks continue while public relations organizations expand. Industries focused on creating information content directly funded by companies and special interest groups are popping up all over as firms become more adept at communicating directly with the public and target audiences.

The media in many cases have become secondary audiences of convenience. The media coverage often now is considered nice to have, rather than the only measure of success.

As a former reporter and a huge consumer of media, I find the entire decline disappointing. However, as someone interested in the evolution of media, I cannot imagine anything more interesting to witness than the slow decline of our national and local news outlets.

What’s behind all this? We could blame smart phones, or Facebook and Twitter. But at the end of the day, the real culprit is money. Like so many things in our modern economy, we want “it” without being willing to pay for “it” — whatever “it” happens to be. In this case, as a nation we have chosen to avoid paying for news.

Let’s not kid ourselves. News is not free. And the suits who call the shots at major media companies have not yet figured out how to get us to pay for it.

We’ll see more pay walls soon, as companies scramble for revenue to cover costs. According to Pew, “Indeed, 450 of the nation’s 1,380 dailies have started or announced plans for some kind of paid content subscription or pay wall plan, in many cases opting for the metered model that allows a certain number of free visits before requiring users to pay.”

But even the stabilization of the news media economy will not roll back the clock. The expansion of technology, and the knowledge we have earned talking directly to consumers, has allowed public outreach communicators the ability to build relationships directly with our target audiences.

We are always going to have a news media. But the question of whether we will always have an independent media that helps set the national agenda for our national dialogue is a question without an immediate answer.

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Author: Lloyd Brown

I am the director of communications for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. I enjoy running marathons and triathlons, playing guitar and spending time with family. My professional interest is in how social media and new technology shapes the communication relationship between government and the general public. I have a Master’s degree in Communications and Leadership from Gonzaga University in Spokane and a bachelor’s degree in Communications from Washington State University.

1 thought on “State of the Media: Why it still matters”

  1. I wonder if we will see a rise in “corporate news” – that is, reporting funded by corporations that may have a veneer of independence and objectivity, but at heart tilted toward favorable coverage of the sponsor.

    It seems to me, too, that we have seen a decline not only in the volume of news outlets, and the shrinking of news staff around the world, but also in the strength of coverage: the simultaneous rise of so-called “citizen journalists” (sometimes no more than a blogger with a point of view) and influx of corporate cash into traditional newsrooms has weakened the independence and in-depth reportage that we enjoyed in this country not too long ago.

    How does that translate into transportation communications, and are there opportunities for still getting our message out in this rapidly changing environment?

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