Belfast Telegraph

Regional papers still drive news agenda

Newspapers still lead the field when it comes to letting local communities know what is happening, according to a new study.

Most local news still flows from newspapers even though internet use diminishes the depth of their coverage, the US report says.

The findings are based on an analysis of how local news stories evolved in Baltimore during one week last summer.

The review by Pew Research Centre's Project for Excellence in Journalism monitored 53 media outlets - newspapers, television and radio stations and web-only operations.

Newspapers and their websites provided 61% of the original reporting or fresh information on six major news stories that unfolded during the week of July 19-25, the study found. Local television stations and their Web sites accounted for 28% of the new information, followed by radio stations and their sites at 7% and internet-only "new media" at 4%.

The conclusions bolster the arguments of newspaper publishers and editors who say their publications are indispensable sources of information about their communities.

J. Montgomery Cook, editor of The Baltimore Sun, wished the study examined more than just a one-week window. A longer look "would have more clearly proven how dominant and comprehensive The Sun is compared to other media," he said.

Yet The Sun and other big newspapers are getting smaller as their print editions lose readers and advertisers to the internet.

Part of the problem, according to the most outspoken media executives, is that the newspaper industry has been losing hundreds of millions in revenue annually to Google, blogs and other websites that crib from their stories to help attract more readers and sell more advertising.

The contingent making this argument include News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch and Tom Curley, chief executive of The Associated Press, a not-for-profit co-operative owned by newspapers.

"This study does suggest that if newspapers were to disappear, what would be left to aggregate?" said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Overall, more than 80% of the coverage published and broadcast during the study period contained old information wrapped in a different package. "Much of the 'news' people receive contains no original reporting," the study found.

More commonly than in the past, the study found, press releases from politicians, government agencies and companies were rewritten quickly by multiple outlets and posted on the web with no additional reporting.

Newspapers often updated their stories with more information later in the day or published a more thorough report in the print publication, Mr Rosenstiel said. But the first versions on the web tended to attract a lot of traffic, partly because of the way links to news are increasingly distributed on Twitter's short messaging system and social networks such as Facebook, according to the study.

In some cases, the stripped-down news reports initially posted on the web were not updated, leaving an incomplete picture.

The report also says newspapers are not digging as deeply into local stories or producing as much coverage as they did before the internet's less expensive advertising alternatives and the recent recession hit their revenue.

Belfast Telegraph