Friday, January 15, 2010

Four percent

The Internet has changed the world, including the creation of innumerable new sources of original reporting never before available to the information consumer, right?

Wrong.

The Internet accounts for four percent – that’s four, not 14, not 40 – of original reporting in the Baltimore market, according to an in-depth study by the Pew Research Center. Pew believes this finding can be applied to other American markets.

So what’s happening on the Internet? Bloggers, aggregators, and similar sites are posting stories that originated elsewhere. Either that, or they’re simply writing commentary that contains no new information, just a personal spin.

Where is original reporting coming from, then? The same places it has for the past many decades – local newspapers (55 percent), local television (34 percent) and magazines.

In what should be an obvious point, the Pew findings conclude that the Internet continues to be a great way to disseminate information but its main contribution to news-gathering is to act as a tool for the traditional media.

In smaller markets such as ours, it’s all but certain that Internet sources provide essentially zero original reporting and that the percentage provided by newspapers (not just the Post Register, but newspapers in Rexburg, Blackfoot, Rigby, Shelley, Challis, Salmon, the Teton Valley and elsewhere) provide significantly more than 55 percent of the original local news reporting.

This illustrates, yet again, why it’s so important for the “legacy media” (local newspapers and television, mostly) to be even better at covering their home markets – because no one else is doing it, nor is any alternative on the horizon. Journalism is journalism, blogging is blogging and aggregating is aggregating.

And what is “aggregating?” It’s the service provided by web sites like Google News, The Drudge Report and Huffington Post (the latter combines aggregating and blogging) that simply entails combing the Web for news stories and placing them on their web site. In earlier days we’d call that copyright infringement, and we probably will call it that again someday soon.

Take this challenge – go to your favorite “news” web site that isn’t run by a newspaper, TV station or network, or other legacy news provider – and count the stories that site created on its own. Remember, blogging doesn’t count – that almost always is just a commentary about a news story that originated elsewhere. My guess? You’ll be hard pressed to find much, if anything.

My series of columns on the state of the news, and particularly of newspapers, might read to some like self-congratulation or perhaps whistling past the graveyard. What I intend by them is to make the point – repetitively, I confess – that while the Internet has changed many things, it hasn’t changed what we consider to be journalism.

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