The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism is studying the “news ecosystems” in cities across the U.S. PEJ wants to find out: Who is providing the news? Where is it coming from? and How are people getting it? I attended a meeting of the Baltimore Public Relations Council last week when Amy Mitchell, PEJ deputy director, walked through a set of PowerPoint slides showing the key points from their first study which looked at a single week of news in the Baltimore market during July of 2009.
You can read more about the PEJ report here, but below is what Mitchell said were the “most surprising” points:
The study described Baltimore as a media “echo chamber,” with very little original reporting and lots of repetition of the same story among the media. “Fully eight out of ten stories studied [83%] simply repeated or repackaged previously published information,” the report states.
Mainstream media – mostly newspapers – still lead the way: “Of the stories that did contain new information nearly all, 95%, came from traditional media — most of them newspapers. These stories then tended to set the narrative agenda for most other media outlets,” according to the report. Mitchell said most stories originated from The Sun (print) and The Sun‘s Web site.
Since its January publish date, there have been some worthwhile rebuttals and alternative viewpoints pointing out flaws in the report. For the full picture, they’re worth checking out, including posts by Allbritton’s Steve Buttry of “Pursuing the Complete Community Connection” and this post by Jeff Jarvis of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.
While I agree that more than a single summer week in a single market is needed to understand what’s happening, here are a few tips for Baltimore public relations firms and professionals:
- Don’t ignore the mainstream media just yet. While they struggle to find the right business model, they’re still an effective way to set the agenda for all the other “aggregators” who will feed the echo chamber.
- At the same time, learn more about the 53 “news outlets” that the Pew researchers identified in Baltimore and focus on ones that directly reach your audiences. The “legacy press,” as Mitchell called it, is short-staffed and can’t devote the attention and resources to your story the way they could just a few years ago.
- While the new media (blogs, Twitter, etc.) can break the news, the PEJ study showed it doesn’t get noticed until the legacy media weighs in, so be patient.
- Work your story through the system. Start with a tweet or approach a blogger first. Then if you get attention from the mainstream media, you’ll get picked up by that echo chamber.
- Join the news ecosystem yourself. Pew identified Twitter and blogs as part of the media universe, and there’s nothing that says you – or the organization you represent – can’t blog or tweet and become a part of the new media.