The News Tip: Takeaways From 2011

2011 was a year of intense and compelling news stories: from the Arab Spring, to the nuclear disaster in Japan and the killing of Osama bin Laden.

It’s often assumed that people bury their heads in frivolous news when hard news is too much to take. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik says that this year media consumers embraced the hard news.

“They were often transfixed by it,” he tells Weekend Edition Sunday host Audie Cornish.

An annual report from the Project for Excellence in Journalism, an offshoot of the Pew Center, found that international news went up from being 11 percent of all coverage in 2010 to 18 percent this year. People also closely followed economic news.

The Project for Excellence report indicates people were interested in the news even longer than the news networks were interested in providing the information. Folkenflik says coverage of the earthquake and nuclear disaster in Japan serves as an example.

“The media swarmed that issue. It was intense,” he says, “but at the same time, they pulled back fairly quickly, before the public was ready to do so.”

While social networking played a prominent role in media consumption this year, Folkenflik says it tends to be romanticized as being democratizing.

“A lot of the tweets that had the most resonance and the most purchase were actually from people who were already in place and knowledgeable about such things — specific journalists and activists on the ground, people in place,” he says.

The distinction between “old” and “new” media is also becoming blurred, Folkenflik says.

“I almost think that it’s worth kind of tossing those [terms] out to a certain extent. What looks like an ‘old’ media outlet, Al Jazeera, it’s very much a new player,” he says, “but it became for days the dominant media outlet in terms of conveying to the outside world, including the U.S., what was happening [during the Arab Spring].”

As for the biggest media story of the year, Folkenflik points to News Corp. and the scandals that rocked Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.

“The whole point of trusting news organizations is that they will perform a watchdog service on major and powerful institutions in society,” he says. “In the UK, it appears as though this was one institution — the Murdoch news empire — that was beyond such holding-to-account, and to see that done in so explosive a manner is quite an unexpected sight to behold.”

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.