The future of America’s newspapers

Amy Mitchell

Amy Mitchell oversees the Pew Journalism Project.

If you spent some time reading a newspaper in the last 24 hours, you are in the minority. According to the Pew Research Center, just 23 percent of Americans surveyed said they read a newspaper the previous day. In fact, today more than half of Americans get their news online.

These trends and others were the topic of discussion at an Oct. 30 PRSA-NCC 20+ LeaderPack luncheon where Amy Mitchell of the Pew Research Center spoke about the future of newspapers. Mitchell oversees Pew’s Journalism Project, and she shared her insights with about 30 senior PR practitioners who attended the event.

We all know journalists who have lost their jobs as a result of newsroom cutbacks. Stagnant advertising revenue, failure to adapt fast enough to digital technology and a culture resistant to change—these are just a few of the reasons for newspapers’ decline over the past decade. Yet, amid the glum news, there may be a glimmer of hope for newspapers, Mitchell said.

First, the bad news:

  • Print advertising revenue continues to fall.
  • For every $1 gained in digital advertising, newspapers lose $16 in print advertising.
  • 72% of total digital mobile display advertising goes to just six companies, and none of them are traditional media companies.

Now, some good news:

  • Tablet and smartphone owners are using these devices to read news. Nearly two-thirds say they get news this way weekly.
  • 78% of tablet users read more than one in-depth article in a sitting.
  • 72% of tablet users read an in-depth article that they were not initially looking for.

According to Mitchell, consumers are reading as much news as they are emails on their mobile devices, and newspapers are having some success in charging for this content though paywalls. Newspapers also are earning income from other sources such as consulting, conferences, delivery services and packaging their content for technology companies.

Mitchell noted that for the first time, The New York Times has more circulation revenue than advertising revenue. The Times has worked hard to win readers to its mobile platform, and it was one of the first newspapers to institute a digital pay plan.

In D.C., all eyes are on The Washington Post and what changes Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos will make. Odds are, he will use his considerable technology acumen to transform the Post into a new kind of media company, one more focused on providing a service and less concerned about producing a product.

If you are interested in learning more about the future of journalism, Pew publishes an annual “State of the News Media” report. Here are six trends from this year’s report that are worth paying attention to:

  1. The effects of a decade of newsroom cutbacks are real—and the public is taking notice.
  2. The news industry continues to lose out on the bulk of new digital advertising.
  3. The long-dormant sponsorship ad category is seeing sharp growth.
  4. The growth of paid digital content experiments may have a significant impact on both news revenue and content. (Pew says 450 of the nation’s 1,380 dailies have started or announced plans for some kind of paid content subscription or paywall plan.)
  5. While the first and hardest-hit industry, newspapers, remains in the spotlight, local TV finds itself newly vulnerable.
  6. Hearing about things in the news from friends and family, whether via social media or actual word of mouth, leads to deeper news consumption.

Jay Morris is president of Jay Morris Communications LLC, an independent PR and marketing firm in Alexandria, Va. He serves on the PRSA-NCC and IPRA boards and blogs at waywardjourney.com.

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2 thoughts on “The future of America’s newspapers

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