Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Why consumers are fleeing the media

By Howard Kurtz, CNN
March 18, 2013 -- Updated 0420 GMT (1220 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • New report says media is driving away its best customers, says Howard Kurtz
  • Nearly a third of people gave up on a news outlet because it offers less than before
  • Kurtz: As media organizations cut expenses, they dilute quality of their product
  • In era of social media and commodity news, original reporting is vital, he says

Editor's note: Howard Kurtz is the host of CNN's "Reliable Sources" and is Newsweek's Washington bureau chief. He is also a contributor to the website Daily Download.

(CNN) -- The slow-motion shrinkage of the news business is driving away part of the public.

A Pew Research Center survey says that 31% of those questioned have deserted a particular news outlet because it no longer provides the kind of news and information they had come to expect. And they have noticed this despite the fact that six in 10 overall have heard little or nothing about the industry's financial woes.

Talk about cutting our own throats. This is the most depressing news we've heard about the news business in quite some time.

Howard Kurtz
Howard Kurtz

Who are these customers who are slipping away?

According to an annual report by Pew's Project for Excellence in Journalism, they are the wealthier, older, better-educated folks, more of them men, who are most likely to pay for news.

Watch: Sarah Palin 'racks' up media attention at CPAC

Welcome to the vicious cycle. As advertising declines, digital competition and other pressures have forced media executives to water down the soup, and now many patrons are noticing that it doesn't taste as good.

With so many media choices these days and with news becoming a commodity, it is hard to persuade the owners to invest in in-depth journalism. When a reporter digs up a scoop, it is aggregated and repackaged and diluted and snarked upon by a thousand websites that didn't pay a penny to produce it but can sell advertising off it.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Opinion sells, and doesn't require a costly chain of national and international bureaus. You just need some lights, cameras and microphones.

Watch: How social media set stage for Steubenville rape convictions

What's happening in cable news is a case in point.

MSNBC, the project says, is the most opinionated network by far. Some 85% of its daily programming is people offering opinions, which is cheaper to produce than reporting. On Fox News, by contrast, 55% of the air time is filled by opinion.

CNN is the only one to produce more reporting than commentary, 54% to 46%, says the report. But even at CNN, the report says, the number of packaged news reports in prime time dropped from 50% to 24% from 2007 to 2012, with more time devoted to interviews.

The media's Iraq failure: 10 years later
Matt Lauer faults NBC
The Lead with Jake Tapper

As for local TV newscasts, sports, weather and traffic soaked up 40% of airtime last year, up from 32% in 2005. And news reports are practically becoming blips: only 20% of stories lasted longer than a minute, while half took less than 30 seconds.

Watch: Should NBC be censoring Jay Leno's jokes about...NBC?

Not that everyone is sitting passively in front of a TV set these days; instead, people are walking the streets squinting at their phones. In the survey, 39% said they got news from a mobile device yesterday. The iPad era has fully arrived.

Another 19% say they got news from social media (along with 16% from e-mail and 8% from podcasts). It's not just that Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Pinterest are vibrant delivery systems. The sea change here is that folks are devouring information steered their way by family, friends and those they choose to follow.

Watch: Why the media keep covering Donald Trump's act

As that balance of power shifts, media organizations are scrambling to adapt. They can no longer simply deliver the headlines from on high. They need ordinary folks to serve as their ambassadors, spreading the word about their journalism like the town criers of old.

The top news site by Facebook interactions is the Huffington Post, the study says, followed by London's Daily Mail, Yahoo and the BBC, before you get to the New York Times, the Guardian and CNN.com. Engagement matters. (And Mark Zuckerberg wants to turn Facebook's own newsfeed into a "personalized newspaper.")

Hanging out in the social media playground, of course, means enduring the taunts and jeers of the crowd. That's the price of admission.

But the key to getting talked about and texted and retweeted is having original content. And continuing to water down the product in this age of austerity could amount to slow suicide.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Howard Kurtz.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
ADVERTISEMENT