Reading the Toronto Metro free sheet on the streetcar ride home tonight, I found an interesting Reuters story, headlined: "Troubled times in news media".

The story, also picked up in The Guardian and elsewhere covers a new study released by the Project for Excellence in Journalism at Columbia University's Journalism school. 

It's a sobering report for anyone involved with the news media -citing declining audiences, significant cuts in staffing and resources, and a dramatic rise in public mistrust of the media. Not exactly revelationary stuff, perhaps - but seing the empirical data helps size the known issues.

Among other bleak and rather depressing statistics, the report finds (according to the Reuters piece):

  • "Only 5% of stories on cable news contain new information...Most were simply rehashes of the same facts. There was also less fact checking than in the past and less policing of journalistic standards."
  • "Quality news and information were more available than ever before, but so was the trivial, the one-sided and the false."

And to add weight to part of David Weinberger's counter-argument to the echo chamber meme that was making the rounds a few weeks ago:

  • "Consumers with the time and patience to distinguish between many different sources of news might be better informed, but many were likely to find news outlets that echoed their own view of the world without providing alternative viewpoints."

Which last point seems a fairly succinct and reasonable description of the way the world works. No big surprise that people tend to gravitate towards like-minded people with broadly similar views. Many of us will also seek out alternate perspectives out of curiosity and/or a conscious appetite for balance, but we'll usually return to the same trusted, familiar sources for most of our news.

The Reuters story closes on a key note with obvious resonance for blogging journalists, flacks, or media followers; quoting the project's director, Tom Rosenstiel:

"Journalism is in the midst of an epochal transformation, as momentous probably as the invention of the telegraph or television."

As an aside, the AP coverage of this report, I've just noticed, chooses this idea from Rosenstiel's quote as the headline and lead thought for the piece. Strikes me as a better choice than the Reuters version, which buries that juicy "epochal transformation" hook in the very last paragraph. 

Bonus link: Dan Gillmor's been busy posting the first drafts of his new book "Making the News" at his blog.  Read the introduction, here. And the first four chapter drafts: 1, 23 and 4.