still do the bulk

of news reporting

If we think news — the gathering and presenting of basic information — is important, somebody will have to pay for it.

The importance of that was reinforced Tuesday by a study conducted by the Pew Center for Media Research that involved putting a one-week media microscope on Baltimore, Md.

About half of all news reporting in Baltimore that week was generated by newspapers, the study found. About 28 percent came from local TV and 7 percent from radio. Niche media, like speciality publications, generated 13 percent, while “new media” like bloggers and news Web sites produced only 4 percent.

The report found that new media is more a vehicle for news than an engine for collecting and reporting it. “The expanding universe of new media, including blogs, Twitter and local Web sites in Baltimore, played only a limited role,” mainly as “an alert system and a way to disseminate stories from other places,” Pew found.

By “other places” they mean mainly newspapers and, to a lesser extent, TV stations — the very companies suffering financially in this rapidly shifting media environment.

To understand today’s news business, it helps to picture a pyramid of people, each standing on the shoulders of the people below.

At the top, you find the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Keith Olbermann, highly visible and highly paid people who steam and scream about the day’s news.

Just below them are a bevy of bloggers who, in the main, do much the same.

The pyramid widens to include aggregators, like Google and Yahoo, who sort, organize and present small snippets of news, and make bundles of money doing so.

And at the very wide base of this pyramid are the actual reporters and photographers — the people who go out and find the news that other outlets “aggregate” and opine upon.

Unfortunately, while the public’s thirst for news has never been greater, more and more of the money in the news business is shifting to the people and companies at the top of this pyramid — those who do little or no reporting — and away from the people upon whose shoulders they stand.

Consider, for instance, just how inexpensive it is to produce the Rush Limbaugh radio program — one guy sitting behind a mike in an office with a couple of technical people at his side.

Compare that to the cost of sending a dozen reporters and photographers to Haiti to walk the streets, shoot video and explain to the world what is happening. From transportation to security to food to lodging to insurance — the expenses are massive.

On a local level, the dynamics are similar.

Maine’s newspapers and TV stations do the overwhelming bulk of news reporting. That means hiring hundreds of people and freelancers who go to meetings, sporting events and accident scenes to gather information and visuals.

Traditionally, advertising and subscriptions have paid for that to happen. But, as more users shift to the Web, the advertising revenue has not magically transferred.

Wednesday, the New York Times announced it would begin charging for its online content in 2011.

If we are to preserve original reporting in this country, and we must, we will have to pay people to do it — and the continued ability to do so may ride on the success of the Times’ experiment.

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