Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Why consumers are fleeing the media

By Howard Kurtz, CNN
updated 12:20 AM EDT, Mon March 18, 2013
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
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
updated 7:23 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
updated 5:29 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sun April 13, 2014
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
updated 3:06 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
updated 12:49 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
updated 10:16 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
updated 5:28 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
updated 2:39 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT