What if almost the entire newspaper industry got it wrong?
What if, in the mad dash two decades ago to repurpose and extend editorial content onto the Web, editors and publishers made a colossal business blunder that wasted hundreds of millions of dollars? What if the industry should have stuck with its strengths—the print editions where the vast majority of their readers still reside and where the overwhelming majority of advertising and subscription revenue come from—instead of chasing the online chimera?
That’s the contrarian conclusion I drew from a new paper written by H. Iris Chyi and Ori Tenenboim of the University of Texas and published this summer in Journalism Practice. Buttressed by copious mounds of data and a rigorous, sustained argument, the paper cracks open the watchworks of the newspaper industry to make a convincing case that the tech-heavy Web strategy pursued by most papers has been a bust. The key to the newspaper future might reside in its past and not in smartphones, iPads and VR. “Digital first,” the authors claim, has been a losing proposition for most newspapers.
These findings matter because conventional newspapers, for all their shortcomings, remain the best source of information about the workings of our government, of industry, and of the major institutions that dominate our lives. They still publish a disproportionate amount of the accountability journalism available, a function that’s not being fully replaced by online newcomers or the nonprofit entities that have popped up. If we give up the print newspaper for dead, accepting its demise without a fight, we stand to lose one of the vital bulwarks that protect and sustain our culture.
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For years, the standard view in the newspaper industry has been that print newspapers will eventually evolve into online editions and reconvene the mass audience newspapers enjoy there. But that’s not what’s happening. Readers continue to leave print newspapers, but they’re not migrating to the online editions.
From the paper: “[W]hile print readership is declining, newspaper readers did not drop print in favor of the same newspaper’s online edition. The identified performance gap between newspapers’ print and online products challenges the ‘digital first’ view about the future of newspapers.”
Chyi and Tenenboim don’t deny the obvious mass migration of news consumers to the Web, but they note that most readers go to news aggregators, like Yahoo News, Google News, CNN.com, MSN and other non-newspaper sites. In a 2012 Pew study, 26 percent of respondents cited Yahoo as a news source they used most often; 17 percent named Google, with 11 percent naming MSN.com. Only 5 percent of poll respondents named the New York Times as a top news destination; 3 percent the Wall Street Journal; 2 percent USA Today; and 2 percent the Washington Post.
Link to the rest at Politico and thanks to Dave for the tip.