The critical distinctions among news provision, information provision, and journalism

The explosive growth of digital news and information providers is forcing news organizations to recognize their diminishing significance to users of digital devices, but many remain bewildered about how to respond.

This challenge is difficult because many news personnel do not make distinctions among news provision, information provision, and journalism. Consequently, the strategies of many news organizations approach each as equally valuable. They are not.

News provision involves providing reports about contemporary events and developments locally, nationally, and globally. Information provision involves providing non-news content that meets audience interests and needs. Journalism involves researching and producing news, features, and analytical stories based on professional practices and norms.

In the past, news organizations tended to have strong control over journalism, news provision, and information provision in their markets. However, they began losing that control with the arrival of multichannel terrestrial/cable/satellite television, the growth of magazine titles, and the appearance of the Internet.

It is this loss of traditional market domination over the provision of news and information that most news organizations are struggling with today.

The problem is clearly illustrated by newspapers that typically offered readers non-advertising content that was about 25% news (created through original journalism or provided from news agency stories) and 75% information (either self produced or provided by news agencies and syndication services). It was a cost effective and holistic way to serve readers news and information needs.

That strategic formula doesn’t work today, especially on digital platforms, because there is a plethora of digital information provision about weather, entertainment, food and cooking, sports, automobiles, and hobbies and crafts and because there is a surfeit of news providers about national and international events and developments.

This high level of competition means that newspapers and other legacy news organizations have a much harder time becoming or remaining the digital choice for news and information provision. There is little additional value they can provide by merely being a conduit for flow-of-events news and information available elsewhere.

Value can be created by practicing quality original journalism, however, and by providing context, analysis, and understanding to news and creating better information, provided in better ways, than competitors.

Only by understanding the differences between news provision, information provision, and journalism, by being different from other news and information providers, by having a distinct approach to news and information, by engaging in high quality journalism, and by helping audiences better understand the world and the topics in which they are interested will news organizations become successful in the digital world.


Antonio A. Prado said...

That's a compelling distinction between being an information or news provider from doing journalism.

At least one newspaper I once worked for is lamentably struggling with that distinction and is seeming to cling onto an old business model out of the belief that it's what its audience still wants.

Meanwhile, a lower-quality competitor that still needs to hone its professional standards and practices is gaining attention (if not notoriety) on the "just journalism" side by focusing exclusively on the research, interpretation and analysis part of the equation.

This distinction among the three could throw an interesting twist into my dissertation as well. The Red Media/Blue Media study found that partisans even chose their ideologically favorite news organizations for "softer" topics such as travel, or entertainment news. I wonder how much it extends further into non-journalism areas of the media business such as news provision and information provision.

George L. Daniels said...

Very insightful commentary on the difference between news, information and journalism.

It seems like so much that appears on social media is news and so many of the newspapers are providing information.

As a broadcast journalist, I would argue we (on the broadcast side) provide a lot of news and information, but very little journalism.

It would be a fascinating study to assess these three categories in a range of news outlets by market size, ownership.