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Consider the following headlines. “Under the Weight of Its Mistakes, Newspaper Industry Staggers” (The Washington Post, 2009); “Newspapers’ Woes Worsening”(CBS News, 2009); “The News Business: Out of Print” (The New Yorker, 2008); and “Chronicle of the Newspaper Death Foretold” (Slate, 2006).
What do these headlines have in common? They’re all letting us know that the world of traditional news has reached an end of an era—and that if you stay still, you’ll miss out and will feel the effects, be it cutbacks on content or annihilation of the entire medium.
Two high-profile papers have folded of late—the Rocky Mountain News and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. There’s even a Web site called Newspaper Death Watch (www.newspaperdeathwatch.com) devoted to tracking the casualties.
“Among traditional media, newspapers, radio, and magazines will see the worst declines,” forecasts eMarketer, an online resource and database. “Consider the plight of newspapers, whose collective revenues will plummet nearly 16% in 2009, after an even more brutal 16.4% decline in 2008.”
There are several reasons for newspapers’ collapse—from failure to adapt to a generation gap to a power shift toward consumers. Several critics, including Time and The New Yorker magazine, have vocalized that newspapers were slow to see online potential in revenues using the subscription and pay-per-click model, which contributed to the current demise. Media experts also link newspapers’ loss of income with a decline in classified advertising. Sites like Craigslist.com and oodle.com have managed to capture some of the traditional dollars that supported newspapers. eMarketer states: “The ad buying, measurement, and reporting systems of traditional media are being systematically rewired for the digital age.”
Pew Research Center, a nonprofit organization that regularly reports on consumer media habits, conveys in its February 2009 publication that, “Fewer Americans are reading print newspapers as more turn to the Internet for their news. And while the percentage of people who read newspapers online is growing rapidly, especially among younger generations, that growth has not offset the decline in print readership.”
Analytical research isn’t needed to show that younger generations are more inclined to read their news online, while the baby boomers continue to read traditional newspapers. Pew Research reports that as of December 2008, 40% of adults surveyed say they get most of their news about national and international issues from the Internet. On the upside, according to Nielsen, while paper-copy circulation of most daily newspapers is dropping, online newspaper traffic is up 16%, with The New York Times (18 million users), USA Today (11.4 million users), and The Washington Post (9.4 million users) the most-visited papers per month. Rounding out the top five were the Los Angeles Times (7.9 million users) and Wall Street Journal Online (7.2 million users).
With the major daily newspapers holding a strong online presence, it begs the question of where else are consumers getting their news? Pew Research details, “More online news consumers (50%) said they access news sites indirectly—by following links to specific stories—than by going directly to the home pages of news organizations (41%). Among online news consumers younger than 25, 64% said they more often follow links to stories, rather than going directly to the sites of news organizations.”
Aggregators like Google News and Yahoo are some of the most-frequented news portals, and that’s not surprising since they pull information from different sources to give you as much or as little information as you want. Taking this model of customization and user interaction a step further, ThePrintedBlog.com is an example of a next-generation news site that has embraced the social media zeitgeist by relying on user-provided content. This notion of “citizen journalism,” where consumers are “becoming the media,” is stronger each day.
What does this all mean for members of IFT? We should recognize that news will increasingly be delivered in nontraditional forms and that we should leverage online technology to our benefit. Gone are the days of just reading the paper. We now have an opportunity to take action in real time to influence and provide a voice. Being an active participant means that we’re not just reading the news, but that we are contributing to news—an option that wasn’t possible until now.
So go on, post your comments at the end of a news article, sign up for a Twitter account, and lend your thoughts to ePerspective on the IFT Web site. You’ll be one step closer to joining the conversation and not be left in the digital dust.