In an effort to “right size” and cut costs, the newspaper industry (and other news media) have created and are now caught in a downward spiral that most of these organizations probably cannot and will not escape from. It’s pretty depressing.
Though largely ignorant of the financial troubles of news media the public has clearly noticed the reduction of original reporting and the overall decline of quality in the industry. Those data come from a consumer survey at the heart of The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism’s massive “State of the News Media 2013” report.
In short, the staffing reductions and reduced coverage (to save money) have compromised quality and perceptions of the value of these publications and outlets. In the graphic below 31% of respondents (n=2,009 US adults) say they have abandoned news outlets that “no longer serve their needs.”
This is essentially code for reduced coverage and quality, getting smaller/thinner and so on. According to Pew, “those most likely to have walked away are better educated, wealthier and older than those who did not.” This means that would-be subscribers are leaving. Left are the younger and less affluent readers who are less likely to pay.
However roughly 450 of the 1,380 daily newspapers in the US are using, experimenting with or about to implement paywalls. The New York Times is an example of relative success in this area. It now makes more money online from digital subscribers than from advertising.
The Times has been able to succeed with a paywall strategy because of its strong brand and the perception that it still offers quality and unique value. Increasingly both print and digital news publications are a collection of wire stories, short blog posts and other thin content. This is especially true for local news publications.
But in one piece of relatively good news Pew reports that newspaper circulation appears to have stabilized or remained steady. This may be a result of subscribers like me, who pay for the print NY Times to read it online (and mobile) and rarely look at the paper itself.
Hyper-local was once thought to be the potential salvation of newspapers and news pubs online. It’s not. But a strong mix of national and local news, as well as other local content (events, reviews, sports, etc.) probably would stop much of the bleeding. The problem is that nobody seems to have found the model yet.
We can say definitely however that “quality matters.” The problem is: quality costs money. Community is an important component but you can’t let your community create important content if you’re a news organization. Ultimately all-freelance-written “arbitrage” (SEO-dependent) models like Examiner.com I don’t believe work.
The challenge is how to expand quality and coverage in a way that is sustainable and supportable. The catch-22 is that without additional revenue publishers can’t invest in the news; but without additional coverage and improved quality they’ll see further deterioration of audiences and be forced to make more cuts . . . and so on until they go out of business.
The problems exist not just at newspapers but in the news media across the board, including cable.
What would you do if you were running one of these organizations? How would you react to this survey data?