US journalism benefiting from 'game-changing' investments

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - A new wave of funding by technology-savvy investors into US media companies is driving momentum in journalism, even as news organisations continue to face challenges, according to a report issued on Wednesday.

The level of media investing activity is forging the underpinnings of "game-changing" developments for the industry, according to the Pew Research Center's State of the News Media 2014 report, which cited funding from entrepreneurs like Amazon's Jeff Bezos and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.

"There is an unmistakable sense of new energy that emerged over this last year," said Amy Mitchell, director of journalism research at Pew and an author of the report.

"What we are seeing are individuals with ties to technology companies and an innate understanding for technology move into reporting."

Bezos, the founder of online retail giant Amazon, stunned the media sector last August with his deal to acquire the Washington Post for US$250 million (S$317 million) from its long-time owners, the Graham family. Bezos has said told employees of the newspaper that they will have to "invent" and "experiment" as the Internet revolutionises the news business.

In October, Omidyar said he would build an independent media organisation covering news from sports to politics for mainstream readers.

Venture capital firms invested at least US$300 million into new media digital startups in 2013, which have added thousands of reporting jobs over the past year, the Pew report estimates.

The report said that its first-ever tally found that in 2013 about 5,000 full-time jobs were added at nearly 500 digital news outlets ranging from BuzzFeed to Gawker to smaller local outfits.

"Even as the challenges of the past several years continue and new ones emerge, the activities of this year have created a new sense of optimism - or perhaps hope - for the future of American journalism," the authors of the study wrote.

Several new media startups including Vox Media and Mashable, which are investing in reporting, have received millions of dollars in venture funding the past year.

Still, the study cautioned the new investments and jobs represent only a sliver of the overall media industry, which is haemorrhaging revenue and slashing headcount.

The report estimates that the news industry in the United States generated roughly US$60 billion in annual revenue with advertising accounting for almost 70 per cent. Investment from venture capital and philanthropy amount to only 1 per cent of the total.

In comparison, Google alone generated about US$59 billion in revenue last year.

Overall, the newspaper industry, which accounts for the largest portion of reporting, lost more than 16,000 jobs from 2002 until 2012. The industry now counts about 38,000 editorial jobs.

The State of the News Media takes a wide survey of the media landscape including cable and broadcast television. This year marks the 11th edition of the report.

The authors also noted the feeding frenzy for local broadcast TV stations that resulted in several big acquisition deals for Gannett, Sinclair, and Tribune Co .

Transactions were up more than 200 per cent with value of US$8 billion worth of deals up 367 per cent.