So you like to stay informed on topics that matter to you. You are an active and informed citizen; you always vote and enjoy discussing issues with your friends and family. But maybe you’ve been noticing lately that – with a few exceptions – most news media are no longer providing the quality of coverage that you expect.  Stories are shorter, more homogenous, poorly researched and lacking context.  You are sick of sports, weather and traffic and you find yourself regularly yelling at the TV.

What’s a news consumer to do?

You stop consuming news, is what you do.

This is the conclusion from a study done by the Pew Research Center in the U.S. that looked at the reduction in staffing at media outlets and the consequences for news consumers (the study only covered the U.S., but the same trends are felt here in Canada).  A more visual summary of the study can be found here.

https://i2.wp.com/www.maples.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/empty-newsroom_mk_21.jpgOne of the study’s most alarming findings is how the decline in quality news coverage is affecting public awareness and debate on public policy and issues. If a newsroom can’t afford to examine or question the pronouncements of politicians, corporations and interest groups, then news consumers will not get any value from the news they consume and instead just go directly to the source. Those who are abandoning media outlets are the typical heavy news consumers: more educated, more affluent and more involved – the type of people that form a part of the foundation of public debate and engagement.  The result? Our public discourse is further impoverished. This ties back to my last post, which discussed the critical role public broadcasters can play in informing and engaging the public.

Some suggest that this view is just wrong; there has never been more content available to consumers and it has never been easier to access. I’m not sure if I share this opinion – for me the key question is whether I can get objective news on stories that are important to me from a source I trust, and not from opinionated blogs like this one.

Interestingly, the report suggests the news media have been poor at explaining newsroom budget cuts to their customers, and at linking those cuts to the quality and quantity of news. The study concludes that even those consumers who understand that newsroom cuts lead to poor news coverage are fleeing the ship. I would bet they mostly flee to alternative information sources that reflect their opinions back at them. Or, they are getting more information directly from organizations and corporations through social media.

Have newsrooms missed the story?  Have they forgotten to communicate some basic context to their audience?

Yes, they have. But it would seem as the worst type of self-indulgence – and I say this as a former journalist – to tell your audience that your budget got cut and now you have to close some foreign bureaus and rely more on wire copy.

As a news consumer, would you appreciate that?

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