Yikes.

The other words I was starting to put in this headline: unrepresentative, half the story, less than half the story, and the whole story of Baltimore. How can I begin to characterize the research done by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, as reported in the LATimes article “Most original new reporting comes from traditional sources, study finds”?

PEJ, a nonpartisan project funded by the Pew Research Center, studied news reporting from 53 sources for three days in Baltimore, and followed six key stories for a week, in an effort to understand how the “ecosystem” of news operates in an age when new media is expanding and older outlets are losing resources.

Do this same research in West Seattle, and you’d find, well, a different story. Do this same research in Montclair, N.J., home of Baristanet, and the results might also be different.  And what about topic-based reporting. Isn’t The Body doing a better job on AIDS reporting than any newspaper? Isn’t Kaiser Health News doing a better job of health reporting than any daily?

There are quite a few headlines proclaiming that real news comes from newspapers as a result of the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism study, “How News Happens: The Study of the News Ecosystem of One American City”. The study’s worth reading — it’s very interesting. I think the researchers answered the first question in this graph in their introduction extremely well:

How, in other words, does the modern news “ecosystem” of a large American city work? And if newspapers were to die—to the extent that we can infer from the current landscape—what would that imply for what citizens would know and not know about where they live?

But I don’t think that this research can answer the second. Yet. The system’s in too much flux to come to any conclusion. Perhaps a better research area to study might be the communities that Patch.com has expanded into. As NYC and NJ metros have been shrinking, vacuums have been created that offer opportunities that organizations like Patch and others are filling.

I also think that until the transition settles out that there will be a tendency toward better local coverage and worse coverage of health, science, environmental, state government, entertainment, transportation, and justice, as the metros have been laying off their specialty reporters. However, I’m betting that topic-based regional niche news sites will eventually take up the slack and do a better job than the metros did, just because jurnos and the community can do more in the Web medium.

What would I do if I were the Project’s researchers? Pick a geographic area that does have strong local sites doing original reporting that are within the reach of a metro daily and take snapshots over the next three years. That might get at the whole story and point out holes that need to be filled.

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One Response

  1. It’s Amy Senk, can’t seem to log in as that for this comment. But yes, this study is sure funny. Just last week, a reporter at the Daily Pilot told me she reads my site every day. “I love it. I steal all your stories,” she said, not even thinking that was a strange thing to be admitting to me. Of course, I already knew it. Daily Pilot is owned by Tribune and is distributed through the L.A. Times. So it’s very ironic that the LA Times would claim print papers are coming up with news stories when their own staffers admit stealing from online sites like mine.

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