Poll April 2009

Media Insiders Say Internet Hurts Journalism

As more readers consume news on the Net, media elites worry their industry is changing for the worse. Meantime, press coverage of President Obama, they say, is “about right.”

In a poll of prominent members of the national news media, nearly two-thirds say the Internet is hurting journalism more than it is helping. The poll, conducted by The Atlantic and National Journal, asked 43 media insiders whether, on balance, journalism has been helped more or hurt more by the rise of news consumption online. Sixty-five percent said journalism has been hurt more, while 34 percent said it has been helped more.

The media insiders were also asked about coverage of President Obama. Of 45 respondents, 71 percent say it has been “about right,” 22 percent say it’s been “too easy” and 7 percent say it has been “too tough.”

Those who say that news consumption on the Internet is, on balance, hurting journalism note the way the online experience is changing reader habits.The “hurt more” group also says that while the Internet offers benefits, the cost to traditional media and news-gathering is too high.

QUESTIONS

On balance, has journalism been helped more or hurt more by the rise of news consumption on the Internet?
43 respondents

•Helped more 35 % (15)
•Hurt more 65 % (28)

What do you think of the coverage of Barack Obama so far this year?
45 respondents

•Too tough 7 % (3)
•Too easy 22 % (10)
•About right 71 % (32)

“The Internet has some plusses: It has widened the circle of those participating in the national debate. But it has mortally wounded the financial structure of the news business so that the cost of doing challenging, independent reporting has become all but prohibitive all over the world. It has blurred the line between opinion and fact and created a dynamic in which extreme thought flourishes while balanced judgment is imperiled.”

“A year ago, I would have given a different answer. The increases in audience reach and communication with the audience are incredibly gratifying. But the cost to the business model (R.I.P. Seattle P-I) and the inability of the business model to monetize the Internet means that there is a disturbing net cost to newsgathering. If you're not covering your state delegation in D.C., or the state legislature back home, or the city council, bad things are going to happen, undiscovered.”

“News consumption depends on news production, and I don't see anything on the Internet that produces news—that is, detailed responsible empirical journalism—the way newspapers do (or did). It is typical of Americans to get more excited about consumption than about production.”

“The Internet trains readers to consume news in ever-smaller bites. This is a disaster for newspapers and magazines.”

Those who say that news consumption on the Internet is helping journalism point to the range of information available online and to the way the Web has opened the practice of journalism to more people.

“Sure there's sludge, and I can feel overwhelmed by quantity--but the range and quality of what’s at my fingertips every morning is astonishing.”

“You abandon the conceit that ‘newspapers’ equals ‘news,’ you realize that people have far more information available to them about current events than ever before, and that’s a great thing for both journalism (the gathering of news) and the public.”

“It’s been bad in some ways for the media industry—especially newspapers, at this point—but over the long haul, I think the shift to the Web has helped the practice of journalism. It’s subjected journalists to more real-time scrutiny and opened the profession to talented people not affiliated with major media organizations.”

“More sources more often = good for the First Amendment. The creative aspects of creative destruction almost always represent progress. Nonetheless I worry about the death of expensive reporting and the professional standards that grew up by historical accident in the postwar period of licensed airwaves and quasi-monopolistic newspapers.”

Presented by

Cyra Master

Cyra Master is a W.E.B. Du Bois fellow at the Atlantic. Previously, she was an editor at the nonprofit Center for Law and Social Policy and was a reporter for the New Hampshire Eagle Tribune. She is a graduate of Emerson College.

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