Excellence doesn’t come from patching together a journalistic quilt of conflicting and contradictory research to support a biased and agenda-ridden narrative.
Excellence doesn’t come from selectively choosing data that supports a predetermined narrative while burying data that doesn’t.
Here’s how Pew sees the state of radio (emphasis added):
Most people still listen to news, talk and music for at least a little while every week, and they do most of this listening through traditional broadcast, or "terrestrial," radio. Yet this is where the profit and revenue are under the most pressure. Many stations have left the air and some owners of multiple stations have entered bankruptcy.
Terrestrial broadcast radio continues to serve the greatest number of overall listeners....This dominance, though, is based on an old advertiser-supported model that is showing serious cracks, especially if trends that are accelerating in other sectors hit radio in a way they haven't yet.
One has to gasp at the inaccuracies and misleading characterizations made in a mere two paragraphs.
This is simply an uninformed opinion based on nothing. It isn’t objective. It has nothing to do with excellence nor journalism nor even Pew’s own research.
The people behind this report appear convinced that radio is on the ropes, and they seem prepared to dismiss (or hide) any facts to the contrary. Radio’s imminent demise fits into a nice simple storyline, even if it is fictional.
A Pew study of news consumption last September produced this Inside Radio headline: Radio news hits lowest point in 20 years.
The story reproduced a Pew graph showing plunging radio news listenership. Unfortunately, Inside Radio appears to have relied on the Pew press release rather than studied the actual data.
The precise phrasing of a survey question is critically important. Small changes in a question can produce very different answers. For newspaper, the survey simply asked: Did you get a chance to read a daily newspaper yesterday, or not? The TV question was similar.
Simple and straightforward enough. Now take a look at the radio question:
About how much time, if any, did you spend listening to a radio news program or any news on the radio yesterday, or didn’t you happen to listen to the news on the radio yesterday?
Huh? What'd they say? Would you understand that question?
The radio question is long and confusing. By the end, it isn't clear what's being asked. It invites the participant to just say nope and be done with it.
Fortunately, Pew studies have included a different question that provides more straightforward insights into radio's role in informing Americans. The question is: Do you listen to news on the radio regularly, or not? Similar questions were asked of television and newspaper.
Radio is down about 17% in 16 years, with the majority of losses in the 1990s. Since 2000, the losses have dropped by half. Television shows a similar pattern with the majority of losses occurring early in the polling. Newspaper losses are nearly twice radio’s.
Yes, radio is down, but the erosion is modest and similar to TV’s. But you wouldn’t know it from the report or press release.
Perhaps showing radio holding its own against television and gaining on newspaper doesn’t fit Pew’s narrative. If the authors believe commercial radio is fast approaching the abyss, perhaps it is easier to just bury any evidence to the contrary.
Now Pew has produced a new report, The State of the News Media 2011. It once again uses a mash-up of factoids gathered from Nielsen, Arbitron, the Audit Bureau, NPR, and their own studies to weave a tale of traditional media in a tail-spin.
And once again Inside Radio dutifully reprinted their talking points without any critical analysis.
The only bar that goes up is the Internet. By comparison, traditional media looks in bad shape.
The problem is that the graph is mixing Pew’s news consumption data with Nielsen viewership and Arbitron listenership data.
The graph is worse than meaningless. It is a distortion of the worst kind.
Pew claims Internet usage for news is up over a year ago, but their own data says it is actually down (p137). They had to pick another starting point to make sure it looked like the Internet was growing.
If you take the change in Internet news consumption from July 2009 to July 2010, Internet actually declined 19%. Oops.
For radio (what they now call Audio) Pew’s graph shows radio declining 6%, but according to their own data, Radio was off compared to July 2009, but flat from December 2009 to July 2010.
As it turns out, by picking a different 2009 data set, you can show every medium moving up or down. Radio growth actually beat television between December and July! Oops, again.
But again, to admit to a less than clear-cut downward trend for traditional media, and a less than ballistic path for new-media would't fit the narrative. It seems, the graph has to fit the narrative, not the other way round.
The television numbers seem to be chosen arbitrarily, as well. Using Nielsen data, Pew concludes that cable news is down across the board. However, according to the Pew data (p138), Fox and MSNBC are as strong as they were last year.
But the notion that specific cable news channels might be losing while others gain audience adds nuance that compromises the over-arching theme of the assendancy of new-media. Simpler to paint a single brush stroke of cable news in trouble.
Of course, Pew couldn’t resist the temptation to take a shot at commercial radio by highlighting the growth of NPR:
While Pew makes frequent use of footnotes to give weight to their claims, you won't find any support offered for the claim that all-news programming is scarcer, because it isn't true. The authors want to believe that commercial radio is abandoning news, even if it is untrue.
But Pew doesn't seem to be in search of the truth.
Participants were asked whether they listen to NPR regularly, sometimes, hardly ever, or never. The numbers of listeners who answer regularly or sometimes has declined 23% since 1996.
In Pew’s report it claims that longer trends are not applicable due to changes in question wording, but the substantial word change took place in 1993. The only reason to ignore the trend from 1994 is the awkwardness of the direction.
For some reason, NPR’s decline just didn’t make it into the report that radio trades were provided.
At every opportunity Pew dismisses commercial radio and cheerleads for radio’s competitors. After having to acknowledge radio’s continued ratings success, Pew adds:
But the biggest change in radio listening maybe just ahead. We are on the brink of internet radio being widely available for the first time. Toyota is including Pandora in its multimedia systems in all models....
Of course, Clear Channel’s iHeartRadio will also be on Toyotas, but that fact would interfere with their narrative of imminent new-media domination.
Pew has actually been predicting broadcast radio’s demise since 2006, something we first wrote about in 2009. You have to give them credit, they are determined to prevent facts from dampening their dream.