We do have a bias: We think the world needs journalism and journalists. We welcome the tremendous access people now have to data and information, but much of what Americans need to know will go unreported and unexposed without skilled, independent journalists doing their work. That work can include reporting and editing in the traditional way, as well as aggregating information from other sources, or sorting and presenting data to make it accessible and understandable.
We decided to restrict our studies mostly to the U.S. market. We found the domestic news scene to be a rich and textured one, with plenty of complexity of its own, though we appreciate that a great deal of innovation is taking place beyond U.S. borders.
We define digital journalism broadly. While many publishers still see it as an online phenomenon—that is, displaying content on a PC screen via the Internet—we have included other platforms, including hand-held devices and tablets.
We found several challenges in preparing this study. First, while a great deal of data about digital ventures is available, much of it is unverifiable. Small startups and other private companies have no legal reporting requirements, so some of the figures we cite here are taken with appreciation and on good faith. Further, digital revenue is still such a small sliver of the total for publicly traded companies that, when it is broken out at all, it is rarely displayed in such a way that reveals how much comes from a particular station or publication. And it often isn’t clear how much of a company’s stated digital revenue represents genuinely new income as opposed to legacy dollars reapportioned to online businesses.
We sought to make this report accessible to newcomers and useful to those who have spent years in this field. We have tried to explain such terms as “CPM” (cost per thousand of views) and “impressions” (advertising spaces on a digital page) in the text. And we have tried to be as rigorous as possible in examining numbers that media companies provide when describing their digital results. We also consulted a number of secondary sources to provide background and data unavailable elsewhere. These included important texts from the dawn of the digital age, such as Stewart Brand’s The Media Lab, and more recent books, such as James Hamilton’s All The News that’s Fit to Sell and Information Rules by Carl Shapiro and Hal R. Varian. Of course, we also relied on more current sources, particularly such sites as paidcontent.org, niemanlab.org, and cjr.org.
But the bulk of the research in this report is based on a series of interviews we did in late 2010 and early 2011. We visited mainstream print and broadcast organizations with rich histories and Pulitzers and duPonts lining the walls; we also interviewed the founders and editors of innovative new journalistic enterprises. In most cases, publishers and editors were open, candid, and willing to be quoted on the record. In a few instances, we decided to trade confidentiality for access to internal numbers or insights that would not otherwise be available.
We recognize, finally, that digital journalism is such a dynamic field that some of the findings and conclusions we reach in May 2011 will be outdated within months. That is what makes this subject so fertile for researchers and so humbling for seers. And we conclude our study not with predictions but with recommendations for how news businesses large and small, new and old, can more effectively meet the challenges brought on by the digital transformation.
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