The Future of Pittsburgh Media

As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sheds writers and ad space, and as no one in Pittsburgh can figure out how to pick up the slack, consider this commentary ("The Future of News, Part One") by C. Edwin Baker, a senior scholar of mass media policy and the First Amendment at the University of Pennsylvania. Part One is the problem, and the problem is only partly that traditional media organizations haven't a clue what to do with the Internet. The related problem is that the size of the advertising market is mostly fixed, and as advertising income gets redirected to online enterprises, much less money is left over to support print journalists.
Possibly most serious, advertising is a more or less fixed pot. Huge portions of advertising revenue now supports the suppliers of the “search” for all sorts of already-produced information (including product and personal information) rather than journalistic entities which produce news – which is the story of huge capitalization of Google. Internet advertising that basically did not exist thirteen years ago clocked in at $21.2 billion in 2007 – with 41% going to advertising related to “searches” – and the amount is rising rapidly. That compares with annual newspaper advertising of roughly $40 billion, an amount in decline due primarily to this increasing diversion to online advertising. Though advertising always goes down even in minor recessions, even more so in anything like what the country is currently experiencing, the movement to online advertising is of historic significance for the news industry. Essentially the advertising that has long paid for journalism is in irreversible decline. Without a solution, the future may simply provide an inadequate financial basis for support of the journalism profession and for the news a democratic society needs.

In this strict economic sense, many Pittsburghers lament the passing of Kaufman's, but few Pittsburghers lament it more than the owners and employees of the Post-Gazette.

Baker's quarry is something bigger and broader than the survival of daily journalism. He is concerned about the quality of political life, which suffers in its absence. The failures of transparency and petty (and sometimes large) corruption that often characterize local and regional government go unexamined. Citizens have even less information than they usually get in order to make decisions about candidates, issues, and the other things that affect their lives. (Baker doesn't talk directly about bloggers, but it's clear that bloggers, alternative media, and citizen journlists can pick up only so much of the slack.)

Part Two, yet to come, will focus on possible solutions.

Updated 1/21 at 5:40 pm: While you're at it, read this post at Henry Jenkins's blog about the future of citizen / community journalism.

Updated 1/22 at 1:20 pm: Ed Baker has posted The Future of News - Part Two - Solutions, and the payoff is disappointingly grand. He proposes (1) that the federal government continue its 20th century policy of supplying large subsidies to institutions that employ professional journalists, and (2) that the subsidy consist of tax credits to offset the salaries of the journalists themselves. (2) ensures that the subsidy gets directed to the people who need it most (the writers and editors), rather than the people who need it least (the investors who are up to their eyeballs in debt), and it assumes, as is often the case these days, that news organizations can make an operating profit even in their current forms.

While we wait for the proposal to move to the top of the Congressional priority list, are there other suggestions? I have some, to come later.


1 Response to "The Future of Pittsburgh Media"

Jim Russell said... 1/22/2009 5:48 PM

The Jenkins post resonated with me, particularly the point about media literacy. Secondary and post-secondary education can still foster civic engagement. I recommend making journalism part of the core curriculum. Academic journalists can lead the way. Professional journalists can be our teachers.

Search Pittsblog

About Pittsblog

Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at] Mike also blogs at, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

All opinions expressed at Pittsblog 2.0 are those of their respective authors and of no one (and no thing) else, least of all the University of Pittsburgh.

Pittsblog 2.0 has a motto: "It's steel good in Pittsburgh." Say it aloud, with a Pittsburgh accent.

Comments are moderated.
Subscribe to Pittsblog comments


Blog Archive

Header Background

Header background images licensed from (left image) lemonad and (right image) plaskota under Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - Share Alike 2.0 Generic licenses.


Copyright 2003-2010 Michael J. Madison - WP Theme by Brian Gardner - Blogger Blog Templates,