Traditional newspapers produce original news. Their reporters, columnists and editors get their information from primary sources.
Well, duh, you might be saying. Of course they do. That’s how a news operation works, right?
Not any more. Consider the quote below from a 2010 study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism:
“… 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 eight out of ten stories studied simply repeated or repackaged previously published information. And of the stories that did contain new information nearly all, 95%, came from traditional media—most of them newspapers. …” —How News Happens
Or consider another study done in 2010. The Nieman Lab published a report that focused on one big story, the Google/China hacking case. The report’s author, Jonathan Stray, found that only 13 (11 percent) of the 121 distinct versions of the story that appeared on Google News contained “some amount” of original content. He wrote:
“… Of the 13 stories with original reporting, eight were produced by outlets that primarily publish on paper, four were produced by wire services, and one was produced by a primarily online outlet. For this story, the news really does come from newspapers. …” —The Google/China hacking case: How many news outlets do the original reporting on a big story?
What is going to happen if our traditional dailies no longer have enough reporters to provide all of the original content that now gets aggregated, republished, regurgitated — just plain reused — over and over again on the net?
One might hope that, as dailies adapt to lower profits by cutting news staff, new online-only news outlets would make up for the cuts by hiring their own reporters — to do their own original reporting. One might hope for that.
In 2014, the Pew Research Center studied the growth of digital reporting and digital news outlets and found that nearly 5,000 full-time editorial jobs had been created. However, the study continued:
“… Still, purely in terms of bodies, the growth in new digital full-time journalism jobs seems to have compensated for only a modest percentage of the lost legacy jobs in newspaper newsrooms alone in the past decade. From 2003 to 2012, the American Society of News Editors documented a loss of 16,200 full-time newspaper newsroom jobs, while Ad Age recorded a decline of 38,000 magazine jobs, which includes all jobs for the entire consumer magazine sector. Such job cuts continued in 2013 and early 2014—at such big organizations as the Tribune Co. and Time Inc. …” —The Growth in Digital Reporting
Equally worrying is the fact that the new digital-only model for news is hardly robust. The Pew report says, “For all the expansion, it is far from clear there is a digital news business model to sustain these outlets.”