Report: citizen media = not so much

The Project for Excellence in Journalism has just released its annualy report, The State if the News Media 2008. Sounds like a bit of a snorefest, I know. But this year's report actually has a lot to say about how the Internet is affecting mainstream journalism. Presented here are the highlights, in ascending order of significance. First, there are the surprise-nobody revelations:

The focus of American media is getting narrower. Stories on the Iraq war and the 2008 presidential campaign filled over 25 per cent of the 'newshole'. This reveals both the singlemindedness of American reporters, and the eternal awkwardness of the word 'newshole'.

Advertisers don't 'get' the Internet. Duh. Basically, as news organizations move more of their activities online, advertisers aren't following. Which pretty much nixes the idea of an Internet news 'business model'. The PEJ reports there will be a lot of confusion, fragmentation, and financial loss ahead for news orgs and advertising agencies until they learn to play nice.

And then, the interesting bits:

News is becoming a more of a service than a product. In an age of Internet-driven instant updates, there is no longer really such a thing as a finished 'story'. Articles constantly change and evolve, even in a single day, and the emphasis is less on storytelling and more on the most current information possible. And that's too bad, because a well executed newspaper story is one of life's sublime little joys.

And the kicker:

Bloggers like 'gatekeeping' as much as mainstream journos. Remember when everyone the world over discovered 'citizen journalism' at the same time? Remember how we all thought it was going to revolutionize media, make it more democratic, and generally save the earth? Whoops. Turns out, bloggers and citizen journalists are really just trying to be like the MSM. From the study:

But a study of citizen media contained in this report finds most of these sites do not let outsiders do more than comment on the site’s own material, the same as most traditional news sites. Few allow the posting of news, information, community events or even letters to the editors. And blog sites are even more restricted. In short, rather than rejecting the “gatekeeper” role of traditional journalism, for now citizen journalists and bloggers appear for now to be recreating it in other places.

Memo to the techno-determinists: technology does not change the world. If we're looking at ways to make out media systems more open and democratic, two things are required:

  1. Producers who want to be open and democratic.
  2. Good content that supports meaningful political discourse.

Content is still king, folks. Want to change media? Write something smart on your blog. Don't just start a blog and expect the revolution to find you.