As more people consume news online, news organizations and journalists face the dilemma of reallocating resources and time to attract new readers and viewers while still trying to hold on to their existing, and usually aging, print or broadcast audiences. While this trend is more widespread in the US and some European countries, it will only be matter of time before it impacts African countries like Uganda.
Already many people in Uganda use mobile phones as their primary source of information and as more get phone handsets that connect to the internet, the future of news and information consumption on mobile internet.
Sadly, online revenues for most news media are still a small fraction of the income from traditional print or broadcast. And after many years of double-digit annual increases in online advertising revenue, the trend tapered off dramatically in 2008 and 2009, with online revenues flat or even decreasing.
For newspapers, typically 15 percent or less of total revenues come from online operations (although the Los Angeles Times reported in late 2008 that online income was enough to pay for the paper’s entire print and online news staffs).
Magazines similarly get less than 10 percent of their revenue from their digital operations according to an Advertising Age survey of 2008 revenues.
Financial viability for newspapers and most magazines, at least for now, requires retaining as many existing print readers as possible.
Yet the trends are clear: people, especially the young, are turning to the Internet for more and more of their news and developing an effective digital strategy is essential for long-term survivial:
For other and more detailed statistics on where people get their news see:
- Media Use and Evaluation– Gallup Organization, December 2008
- Internet Overtakes Newspapers As News Source– Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, December 2008
- Americans Believe Internet News Most Reliable– Zogby International, June 2009
- Digital Set to Surpass TV in Time Spent with US Media– eMarketer, 8/1/2013
While the trend toward online is clear, not everyone is embracing it. As of the end of 2007, about 25 percent of people in the U.S. still said they hadn’t ever been online.
For print and broadcast organizations, this means a core group of their audience remains wedded to traditional products and often resistant to getting news online.
For additional statistics on trends in consumption of traditional news media see:
- The State of the News Media– Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism – includes data on newspaper, magazine, network television, local television, cable television and radio audiences. Published annually in the Spring.
- Newspaper Readership Trends– Newspaper Association of America
- Magazine Circulation– Magazine Publishers Association of America
- Magazines– Mr. Magazine
- Television– Nielsen Media Research
- Radio– Arbitron
Readings and Resources
- Sixty Years of Daily Newspaper Circulation Trends, 1950 – 2010, Canada, United States, United Kingdom– Communic@tions Management Inc. discussion paper, 5/6/2011 (pdf)
- Daily Newspaper Circulation Trends, 2000-2013, Canada, United States, United Kingdom– Communic@tions Management Inc. discussion paper, 10/28/2013 (pdf)
Print Editions Decline
A steady decline in print circulation and a precipitous drop in advertising revenue in 2008 and 2009, especially classified advertising, have taken their toll on newspapers and newspaper chains.
Some have been forced out of business, such as the Rocky Mountain News, the Seattle Post Intelligencer (at least its print operation – an online-only version continues) and the Ann Arbor News (which also will continue an online edition as well as a print product twice a week).
Others filed for bankruptcy reorganization, such as Tribune Company, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Philadelphia Newspapers company, the Chicago Sun Times, the Journal Register Co., American Community Newspapers, Freedom Communications, Heartland Publications, Creative Loafing and the Columbian newspaper in Vancouver. Others, such as Morris Publishing and Affiliated Media (the parent company of MediaNews Group), did bankruptcy reorganization filings prearranged with creditors.
Especially hard hit have been newspapers that were more purchased recently, such as the Tribune, Minneapolis and Philadelphia papers, and thus have owners with huge debt loads, or those in areas that still have competing daily papers, such as Denver, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Seattle, Detroit and Tucson.
Newspapers have taken a variety of other measures to save money, preserve the print product, and try to weather the storm:
- Layoffs and buyouts of employees (see the Paper Cuts map that details the staff reductions)
- Instituting pay freezes and unpaid furloughs
- Dropping contributions to 401-K plans and renegotiating salaries and pension payments with unions
- Partnering with other newspapers to share coverage and content
- Eliminating delivery of the newspaper to outlying areas
- Consolidating or dropping sections of the daily paper
- Discontinuing some features, such as stock listings
- Reducing the number of pages in each edition
- Shrinking the size of the paper
- Eliminating editions entirely on days that attract the fewest advertisers and readers
Some papers are also changing the kind of coverage provided in the print product, focusing less on breaking news, which the Internet is much better suited to deliver, and more on analytical or contextual stories.
Eliminating Print Editions
Some newspapers are going a step further and dropping the least profitable of their daily editions – usually Saturdays, Mondays, Tuesdays or Wednesdays.
The hope is that enough readers and thus advertisers will remain local to the print product that revenues will not decline substantially. But breaking the daily news reading habit threatens to further erode print audience loyalty and accelerate the existing decline in newspaper readership.
To ease the transition for older readers still wedded to the newspaper format, some newspapers also offer a digital edition online. This is an electronic version of the newspaper, which appears in a form similar to the print version and can be downloaded from the newspaper’s website.
But there is little evidence that such digital editions are very popular with readers, and critics say they are transplanting a print format into a medium that demands a very different product.
Ken Doctor, a long-time analyst and consultant on digital media, especially newspapers, has said:
“They are essentially counterintuitive products: older readers who may like the idea of ‘reading the paper’ in its traditional format don’t like reading online; younger readers who like reading online find it nonsensical to read yesterday’s news — and pay for it — when they can news of the moment free online.”
Source: In Desperation, Detroit Papers Flip the Switch, Content Bridges weblog
See also this Associated Press story about the experiences of the Detroit papers a year after they dropped home delivery of the printed paper on some days and launched an electronic edition. MinnPost also has a story and a chart about how successful e-editions have been for newspapers.
Some magazines, especially general interest publications, also are reducing their pages or cutting back on the number editions they publish. U.S. News & World Report went from being a weekly to a biweekly to a monthly in 2008. See this New York Times story about the changes weekly news magazines are undergoing.
National broadcast news networks similarly have considered paring back nightly news shows, which tumbled in popularity during the 1990s, largely due to the advent of cable news and then the Internet. See the New York Times story, Broadcast TV Faces Struggle to Stay Viable.
Local television stations have seen more recent declines in viewership and advertising revenues. See the Wall Street Journal story, Local TV Stations Face a Fuzzy Future.
Readings and Resources
- For Newspapers, a Less than Daily Future– American Journalism Review, June/July 2012
Web First Publishing
Some newspapers and other news operations are now adopting a “web-first” or “web-centric” approach to organizing their work flow. This means having reporters and editors think first about reporting and producing text and multimedia stories for the web, then writing a text story for the print edition.
This also is sometimes referred to as “reverse publishing.”
It marks a major shift from the old “shovelware” approach of newspapers in the 1990s, in which stories were written first for the newspaper and then shoveled onto the web, often with few, if any, changes.
Then in the early 2000s “convergence” strategies started to gain traction at some media organizations, with newspapers, TV stations and radio stations partnering to produce content for a website. But producing stories for the traditional news or broadcast products usually still had top priority.
TBO.com, a partnership of the Tampa Tribune and WFLA-TV Channel 8 launched in 2000, was one of the early examples of this move toward convergence (see Alan Mutter’s more recent analysis of how well this partnership performed).
In 2008, the Tampa Tribune moved toward a web-first approach.
“People need to stop looking at TBO.com as an add on to The Tampa Tribune. The truth is that The Tampa Tribune is an add on to TBO,” Tribune Managing Editor Janet Coats said in July 2008.
In a web-first approach, the main focus often is on breaking news and getting those stories on the web as fast as possible, on a 24-hour-a-day, 7-days-a-week news cycle.
Some publications have set up “continuous news desks” with dedicated staffs that produce round-the-clock breaking news for the web. The New York Times and Washington Post, for example, have continuous news desks (on the Times see “Talk to the Newsroom: Continuous News Correspondent“; on the Post see “Ask the Post“).
Other publications have emphasized getting all reporters and editors to focus on putting breaking news and other stories on the web, rather than having a separate staff handle story updates for the Internet edition.
In these cases, the publications usually must undergo major reorganizations of their newsrooms and try to train most or all of their editorial staff in writing for the web and producing multimedia.
Readings and Resources
- Guardian to become 24/7 web-first newspaper– CyberJournalist.net weblog, 3/11/2007
- Transforming the Architecture– American Journalism Review, October/November 2007; story about the Atlanta Journal Constitution
- Why one editor spends entire training budget on the web– Inland Press Association, 4/2/2008; story about the Ventura County Star
- Dropping bombs in the newsroom– BuzzMachine, 7/3/2008; story about Tampa Tribune
- Newsroom Convergence: A Shotgun Wedding– Kent State University, 2009; A detailed description of how Kent State University’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication moved its student newsroom through three stages – from a shared to a collaborative to a converged experience
- What’s The Ben Franklin Project?– Ben Franklin Project, Journal Register, April 2010; the Journal Register Company’s digital first strategy for its newspapers.
- For Newspapers, the Future Is Now: Digital Must Be First– GigaOM, 12/2/2010
- The News & Record confronts its digital divide– Michele McLellan, News Leadership 3.0, Knight Digital Media Center at USC, 12/16/2010
- John Paton: We’re Doing Somethig About Digital Transformation– JimRomenesko.com, 12/2/2011. The “digital first” initiative being pursued jointly by Journal Register Company and MediaNews Group.
- Digital First: What Does It Mean, And Where Will It Take Us?– Editor & Publisher, 12/13/2011
- Against all odds, a new newspaper war erupts– USA Today, 7/24/2013. Freedom Communications, which emphasizes the importance of the print newspaper, squares off against Digital First Media in Long Beach, CA, with competing plans for attracting readers to their local news outlets.
- Reuters Next Canceled– New York Observer, 9/18/2013
News media companies that adopt a web-first strategy face a competitive environment very different from traditional print or broadcast environments.
Their major rivals for the attention of readers and viewers often are not other traditional news organizations, but non-profit organizations, private corporations, online-only startups or even government agencies that have turned to the web to get out their message. They often carve out niche markets on the Internet that compete with the websites of traditional news organizations.
Here are some examples of these websites:
While newspapers were trying to figure out how to “up-sell” classified ads from their print product to their online editions, craigslist created a space where people could just post their classifieds free of charge (with the exception of employment ads and some real estate ads).
The site has a very simple design and very few features, but for the community it serves it’s highly functional. And its founder, Craig Newmark, puts a strong emphasis on customer service.
The result: craigslist decimated classified advertising in newspapers in many of the cities where it’s launched.
While in the past newspapers were almost the only source of news about high school sports, online startups like MaxPreps now dominate that market online in many cities.
Founded in 2002 and later purchased by CBS in 2007, MaxPreps includes these features:
- Databases of individual game-by-game player stats. The data also includes team rosters and game schedules for every sport in every high school in a town. Schools that participate in MaxPreps also can contribute photos, video, and other multimedia about the games.
- Multimedia coverage of games, with video and photos shot by freelance photographers and videographers.
- A coach’s corner where coaches can contribute content.
- Video uploads by parents about their kid’s performance.
Professional sports organizations have their own websites that provide a depth of coverage on teams, especially statistical data on players, that rivals or surpasses the information produced by newspapers or other local news organizations.
MLB.com, the official website for Major League Baseball, provides in-depth coverage of professional baseball teams that is as comprehensive as sports networks like ESPN. It includes audio and video feeds of games and deep databases on team and player stats.
The National Footbal League’s website has similar features. This is the NFL’s page on the St. Louis Rams football team.
As a result, local sports fans are by-passing newspapers or local TV stations to get information on their teams, and some newspapers are cutting back on their coverage of professional sports.
Concerned about the decline in print newspaper sports coverage of local teams, Dallas Mavericks basketball team owner Mark Cuban has proposed that professional sports organizations subsidize sports beat reporters at local newspapers.
When newspapers cut back their staffs, science reporters are often the first to go. NASA, meanwhile, has been expanding its website to directly reach people interested in astronomy. The site has photo galleries, video stories, a live NASA TV channel, interactive graphics and online games for kids.
Centers for Disease Control
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has a Social Media Tools web page that features widgets, podcasts, RSS feeds, social networks and mobile access to CDC information.
The FBI’s website features databases on crime, RSS feeds of “FBI stories” and “breaking news,” amultimedia section that features video, photos, podcasts and “FBI radio” shows, and widgets for embedding FBI content in blogs and websites.
Council on Foreign Relations
This public policy organization’s website has a multimedia section that features interactive graphics, photo slideshows, high-quality video, timelines and online quizzes. See especially CFR’s interactive multimedia piece Crisis Guide: Climate Change.
The environmental activist organization has a website that features multimedia stories with video, photos and photo slideshows, staff blogs and a “news” section with stories about Greenpeace actions and environmental issues.
The Traffic.com website has interactive maps that show driving conditions in cities around the country, traffic alerts, reports on traffic incidents and roadwork, and a drive-time calculator for determining how long it will take to drive between any two locations. Widgets called Traffic Magnets can be embedded on a blog or website to display local traffic conditions.