Subscribe to the Real Truth for FREE news and analysis.Subscribe Now
A growing number of people reading news on the Internet has caused a downward spiral in the circulation of daily newspapers and magazines, and generated concern among industry professionals anxious about how to make a profit.
“The numbers reflect a continuation of a trend that began in the 1980s, as younger people turn to cable TV and the Internet to learn about current events. ‘It used to be a truism that the only thing a newspaper had to do to improve circulation is produce a better newspaper,’ says industry analyst John Morton. ‘Now, young people aren’t any more inclined to pick up a good newspaper than a bad one. That isn’t likely to change’” (USAToday).
People receiving news alerts through their cellphones or using Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) to listen to podcasts instead of the radio have also replaced traditional methods.
Even cable news has not been immune to the Internet’s influence: “Cable is beginning to lose its claim as the primary destination for what was once its main appeal: news on demand. That is something the Internet can now provide more efficiently” (The State of the News Media 2007).
Lay-offs, buyouts and downsizing have been reported at many large papers, including the Los Angeles Times, Dallas Morning News, Time Magazine and the Boston Globe. Former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore’s independent television network, Current Media, was the most recent to report lay-offs (CNET News).
However, the effects have not only been experienced through downsizing, but also in the quality of the product itself. Newspapers evidence fewer pages, less content, a higher newsstand subscription price and losses in advertising revenue. This has created challenges for the industry, and caused several newspapers to abandon print production to focus solely on their online content.
The Christian Science Monitor recently announced that it will switch from a print edition to an online only format “updated continuously throughout the day.”
Magazine circulation has also suffered in the shift from street stands to websites: “Newsweeklies have been hard hit, along with many magazines, by the current ad downturn; but separately, the category has long suffered from readers’ ongoing migration to the web for news” (MediaWeek).
U.S. News & World Report recently reported that it, too, would go the way of the Internet, and would now only publish its consumer guides in hard copy form (UPI).
“Like newspapers, magazines have been struggling with declining advertising revenue as readers increasingly go online for news and entertainment. In the second quarter, magazines had 8.2 percent fewer ad pages, the Publishers Information Bureau reported” (New York Times).
“As the media landscape is changing, so are the tools journalists use to do their jobs…When asked how they acquire information about a company, journalists cite company web sites (89%), Google (73.8%), e-mailed press releases (72.7%), and conversation/personalized e-mail from a PR person (70.9%). Nearly half (49.5%) use newswires, while only 13.9% report that they use RSS feeds” (PRWeek).
“Journalists are also turning to social networking sites and blogs to supplement their news coverage or find sources. Of those surveyed, 25.5% say they have a profile on MySpace, 29% are on Facebook, and 32.3% are on LinkedIn. While only 8.4% say they “always” use blogs for research, more than 36.5% say they use them “sometimes.” In addition, 57.7% report using blogs to measure sentiment, 38.7% for finding subjects, and 29.5% for searching industry experts” (ibid.).
Many web developers agree with the push for newspapers and magazines to move online.
In an interview with Conde Nast Portfolio, Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Netscape Communications and developer of the first commercial web browser, advised newspapers to end production. “The financial markets have discounted forward to the terminal conclusion for newspapers, which is basically bankruptcy. So at this point, if you’re one of these major newspapers and you shut off the printing press, your stock price would probably go up, despite the fact that you would lose 90 percent of your revenue. Then you play offense. And guess what? You’re an internet company.”
But some media professionals see a downside to the technological push.
“In the fragmenting media universe, the ‘old media’ sectors — such as newspapers and network television — seem to have a broader and more diverse news agenda than the newer, more opinionated platforms, notably talk radio and cable television news. Not only did the older sectors offer a wider variety of subject matter, but they also were the least likely to be dominated by a few mega-stories, such as the Iraq war and politics. Talk radio and cable news tended to take the one or two hottest stories in the news and magnify them over the airwaves” (The State of the Media 2008).
“Even with so many new sources, more people now consume what old media newsrooms produce, particularly from print, than before. Online, for instance, the top 10 news web sites, drawing mostly from old brands, are more of an oligarchy, commanding a larger share of audience, than in the legacy media. The verdict on citizen media for now suggests limitations. And research shows blogs and public affairs web sites attract a smaller audience than expected and are produced by people with even more elite backgrounds than journalists…Certainly consumers have different expectations of the press and want a changed product.
“But more and more it appears the biggest problem facing traditional media has less to do with where people get information than how to pay for it — the emerging reality that advertising isn’t migrating online with the consumer. The crisis in journalism, in other words, may not strictly be loss of audience. It may, more fundamentally, be the decoupling of news and advertising.”