Our Opinionated Media


The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism recently released their annual “State of the Media” report, which finds that opinion reporting on the big three cable networks is up:

On cable, the news structure of the three channels—the mix of interviews, packaged segments and live coverage—has changed. After relying on significantly distinct formats five years ago, the three rivals now look strikingly similar. … CNN, which has branded itself around reporting resources and reach, cut back between 2007 and 2012 on two areas tied to that brand—in-depth story packages and live event coverage. Even so, CNN is the only one of the three big cable news channels to produce more straight reporting than commentary over all. At the other end of that spectrum lies MSNBC, where opinion fills a full 85% of the channel’s airtime.

Paul Waldman argues that the decline of “straight reporting” isn’t necessarily something to worry about:

If MSNBC decides that analyzing, discussing, and debating the news is going to be their thing, and people watch it, that doesn’t do any harm. And indeed, you’ll learn more from an episode of one of MSNBC’s better talk shows than you will from a dozen reported packages about this week’s Trial of the Century or the latest snowstorm moving through the Midwest.

In Yglesias’ view, news consumers have never had it better:

Just ask yourself: Is there more or less good material for you to read today than there was 13 years ago? The answer is, clearly, more. Indeed, one thing the Pew report correctly emphasizes is that (as we at Slate are well aware) it’s hard to make lots of money selling ads online. But it’s hard primarily for the same reason that the Internet is such a bonanza for readers: There’s lots of competition and lots of stuff to read. A traditional newspaper used to compete with a single cross-town rival. Time would compete with NewsweekTime doesn’t compete with Newsweek anymore: Instead it competes with every single English-language website on the planet. It’s tough, but it merely underscores the extent of the enormous advances in productivity that are transforming the industry.

Ed Kilgore, meanwhile, zooms in on local coverage:

[I]t’s the data on local TV that’s really alarming. According to Pew, coverage of politics and government now accounts for an average of 3 percent of the airtime on local television “newscasts,” less than half the proportion registered in 2005. By comparison, 71% of newscast airtime is absorbed by crimes (or trials), traffic and weather, sports, and accidents/”bizarre events”/disasters. When combined with the cutbacks and disappearances afflicting print media, and the relatively small proportion of online content devoted to state and local government developments, you’ve got a host of governments operating virtually in the dark.

(Chart from the Pew Report)