The news about news media.

Part 2: electronic news is sending mixed signals.

A couple of decades ago, advertisers could reach 80% of adult Americans with a roadblock buy on the three national networks' evening news shows. A morning-drive radio buy on a town's top five radio stations could get near-total penetration if the commercial was interesting enough to get water-cooler buzz.

Those days are long gone. Cable news networks have joined national network and local TV news. Local radio now shares listening time with satellite and podcasts. And as sources have proliferated, the market has splintered into more and more small segments. Electronic news media have lost overall share as news providers. And electronic news audiences are getting older.

Marketers may have lost a powerful mass-reach medium. But we've gained an extremely effective targeting medium.

Broadcast network TV news is still the dominant medium for news. The May, 2008 Nielsen study found that 39.6% of adults cite broadcast news as their primary source of news.

But a Pew study found that 80% of Americans agree with the statement that "There are so many ways to get the news these days that I don't worry when I don't have a chance to read the paper or when I miss my regular news program." That may be why, although 39.6% of Americans name broadcast television as their primary source of news, only 7.7% watch broadcast TV network news on an average night.

The NBC, ABC and CBS network evening newscasts lost a combined 1.2 million viewers last year, a 4.9% drop. More troubling, the total audience for broadcast network evening news is less than half of what it was 25 years ago. There's a fair chance that their audience is simply dying off, since the average age of viewers is 60. The morning shows – "Today," "Good Morning America" and "The Early News"– are losing audience, too. They're down an average of 2%, according to the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Advertising revenues have just begun to slip. The cumulative decline of the three networks' news revenues from 2005 to 2007 was $55 million – a drop of only 3½%. But it's a pretty safe bet that the rate of the decline will accelerate.

Predictably, network news staffs are being cut. The Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism estimates that 10% of network news staffs were cut between 2002 and 2006. More recently, CBS eliminated 160 news jobs at their corporate-owned TV stations. (Cuts or not, we're guessing that the $32 million cumulative annual salaries of Katie Couric, Brian Williams and Charlie Gibson are safe for the time being.)

Just as is the case with newspapers, broadcast network TV news staff cuts may be a harbinger of a death spiral. If the breadth and depth of news is reduced to headlines and highlights – or maybe just reading wire-service feeds – viewers might not see much point in watching. After all, those same headlines, highlights and feeds are available 24/7 online.

A recent Pew study found that 42% of national journalists expect broadcast network news to disappear within ten years. Not just one network's news. All of them.