Letter: Journalism Becomes the Story (Spring 2010 Trust Magazine)

Source Organization: The Pew Charitable Trusts

Author: Marshall Ledger

03/19/2010 - I just received my [vol. 12, no. 1] copy of Trust. And, although I have not fully read this edition, I am glad to see you have an article on journalism in America [“Bleak House”]. A serious and timely subject.

You “guys” do such a wonderful job and have such credibility! Keep up the wonderful work.

—David Banner, West River, Maryland

The editor responds: You may also be interested in the recent How News Happens: A Study of the News Ecosystem of One American City by the Pew Research Center’s Project on Excellent in Journalism. This is from the report’s introduction:

Where does the news come from in today’s changing media?

Who really reports the news that most people get about their communities? What role do new media, blogs and specialty news sites now play?

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?

The questions are becoming increasingly urgent. As the economic model that has subsidized professional journalism collapses, the number of people gathering news in traditional television, print and radio organizations is shrinking markedly. What, if anything, is taking up that slack? The answers are a moving target; even trying to figure out how to answer them is a challenge. But a new study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, which takes a close look at the news ecosystem of one city, suggests that while the news landscape has rapidly expanded, most of what the public learns is still overwhelmingly driven by traditional media—particularly newspapers.

The study, which examined all the outlets that produced local news in Baltimore, Md., for one week, surveyed their output and then did a closer examination of six major narratives during the week, finds that much of the “news” people receive contains no original reporting. Fully 8 out of 10 stories studied simply repeated or repackaged previously published information.

And of the stories that did contain new information, nearly all, 95 percent, came from traditional media—most of them newspapers. These stories then tended to set the narrative agenda for most other media outlets.

The editor adds: I have read many an editor’s farewell message but never seen one added to a reader’s letter. Yet this seems as good a place as any for me—who will retire in March—to say goodbye, since the context involves two elements that have so often made my day.

One prompted Mr. Banner’s letter and many others through the years: Pew’s thorough, relevant and pragmatic work on issues that matter—and (as seen in my remarks above) the way that Pew’s initiatives, after they make their mark, can keep the ball rolling.

The other has been the privilege of conveying all that good stuff to readers in the most inviting way that I and my colleagues, plus a design firm and many other freelancers, could imagine.

As Trust’s founding editor, I have had this credo: The magazine should stand as tall in its world as Pew’s projects are in their fields. That Trust has indeed served as a publication the organization holds high is a sweet memory to carry into retirement.

—Marshall Ledger

This letter appeared in the Spring 2010 issue of Trust magazine.

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