Expert Commentary

State of the United States news media, 2012

Study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism reports on the present situation for the news media and its potential future.

Employment in the newspaper industry hit a peak of 56,900 editorial jobs in 1989, but as print circulation has dropped, so have jobs: By 2010 newsroom employment had fallen 27%, to 41,500. In response, news organizations have been building their online offerings and adjusting advertising and subscription strategies, but print income continues to fall more quickly than it can be replaced digitally.

Every year the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism reports on the present and future of the news media. Their latest report, “The State of the News Media 2012,” offered a careful analysis, but reached no easy conclusions.

The study’s findings include:

  • Print advertising revenue continues to decline faster than online ad revenue grows: In 2011, “print losses were greater than digital gains by 10 to 1. That was even worse than a 7-to-1 ratio of print losses to digital gains in 2010.”
  • While newspapers are likely to cut back from seven-day publication, one day where circulation has held steady or increased is the coupon-heavy Sunday edition. “The Sunday emphasis is a revenue and profit plus, but it also may represent a tipping point of sorts. Sunday advertising now represents 35% to more than 50% of the total at most papers.”
  • There has been advertising revenue growth in a number of areas, including ads targeted at smartphones, tablets, and social networks that seek to drive more people to news organizations’ websites.
  • Only 9% of digital news consumers frequently get news from Facebook or Twitter; of the two, Facebook is by far the greater driver, 6% to 3%. However, 48% of digital news consumers never get any news through Facebook or Twitter: “The survey confirms that Facebook and Twitter are now pathways to news, but their role may not be as large as some have suggested.”
  • One-third of desktop and laptop users and 38% of tablet users get most of their news by going directly to news outlets’ websites or apps. This tendency has been accelerated by the advent of smartphone technology.
  • The 2011 move toward digital paywalls is described as a “positive development.” The New York Times is the most prominent example, with approximately 150 smaller dailies following its lead. News organizations installing variations on the Times’ “metered model” include the Boston Globe, Dallas Morning News, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and Los Angeles Times, as well as many Gannett properties.
  • AP and 28 other news organizations recently launched NewsRight, a licensing organization that will work to collect royalties from content aggregators. “A successful path for NewsRight would position newspaper organizations to collect fees for their content both from their regular readers via digital subscriptions and from the huge and expanding aggregation sector.”

While there are positive signs for the newspaper industry, the gains remain small compared to the continuing losses. Consequently, in the coming years more newspapers are likely to implement pay walls, curtail their print schedule and continue to shed staff.

Tags: news, employment, Twitter, technology, mobile tech

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