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All the News That’s Fit to Stream

Printing press at villa d'Este
Printing press at villa d'Este
(Photo credit: avinashkunnath)

Although newsprint has been around for more than 500 years, the past five years have seen a number of printed newspapers and magazines go down in flames. This is due in large part to the digital revolution that was spawned by the emergence of the Internet less than 20 years ago. Now, in an attempt to stave off extinction, most newspaper editors are embracing the Web in order to create a unique fusion of digital and print that they hope will keep them alive and kicking in the 21st century. Today's article will explore the changes that are taking place in the world of newsprint and where it’s headed.

A Few Good Quotes to Set the Stage

“A good newspaper is never nearly good enough, but a lousy newspaper is a joy forever.” At least that’s the way that Garrison Keillor saw it. Through the years, many notables have weighed in on the veracity of newspaper reporting, their opinions formed mostly by the way in which they were portrayed by the media.
English: Mr. Garrison Keillor 
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

President Lyndon Johnson’s opinion of reportage was framed by this quote, “The fact that a man is a newspaper reporter is evidence of some flaw of character.”

The late actress Bette Davis, on the other hand, quipped, “With the newspaper on strike, I wouldn’t consider dying.”

Love them or hate them, newspapers in the US have been a source of controversy since the first one was printed in Boston in 1690. (Coincidentally, only one edition of this newspaper was published before the paper was suppressed by the government.)  However, it wasn’t long before a longer lived successor made it into print in 1704, followed by other weeklies in New York and Philadelphia. For the next 200 years, newspapers ruled the roost in cities and towns as the place where everything from curiosities, calamity, births, deaths and ads were made available to the masses.

News Print Hit the High Water Mark in 2007

While the broadcast media of radio and television made a bit of a dent in the armor that newspaper publishers wore, so popular and powerful this medium that by 2007, there were 6,580 dailies in the world with a combined readership of 395 million. During their heyday, newspapers turned a number of publishers into moguls and many writers into celebrities.

Just two years after the newspaper business reached the above-mentioned high water mark came its sudden implosion. On Independence Day 2009, "Business Insider" reported, “As you may have noticed, newspapers have had a rough 2009. But you may not quite appreciate the magnitude of the collapse. So far this year:
·      105 newspapers have been shuttered
·      10,000 newspaper jobs have been lost
·      Print ad sales fell 30% in Q1 '09

·      23 of the top 25 newspapers reported circulation declines between "7% and 20%."

International best-selling humor columnist, Dave Barry, lamented, “Newspaper readership is declining like crazy. In fact, there’s a good chance that nobody is reading my column.”

Was it the Great Recession or the Internet?

While the Great Recession had something to do with the problems many print venues faced in 2009 it was by no means the entire story. Since the early years of the 21st century, the rise of the Internet had caused a major decline in circulation and advertising revenues at major dailies around the world. No longer a monopoly for such things as classified advertisements, now there were free, online classified ad sites such as Craigslist, which began to undermine the very foundations upon which newspapers were built.

“The decline in advertising revenues affected both the print
and online media; print advertising was once lucrative but no longer is, and the prices and effectiveness of online advertising are often lower than those of their print precursors. Besides remodeling advertising, the internet has challenged the business models of the print-only era by democratizing and crowdsourcing both publishing in general (sharing information with others) and, more specifically, journalism (the work of finding, assembling, and reporting the news). In addition, the rise of news aggregators, which bundle linked articles from many online newspapers and other sources, influences the flow of web traffic.” – Wikipedia

 A Double Dose of the Double Whammy

The double whammy of economic decline, combined with the rise of the Internet was the "Perfect Storm" to the newspaper industry. The years 2009-2013 saw not only the demise of a number of newspapers that had been printed for many years, but it also saw a number of prominent dailies changing hands, including, most recently, the "Boston Globe" and the "Los Angeles Times."  "The Globe," which had been owned for 20 years by the "New York Times," was sold on October 24, 2013 to John W. Henry (owner of the Boston Red Sox) for $70 million in cash. 

Double whammy!
Double whammy! (Photo credit: Unlisted Sightings)
Other dailies were not so fortunate. Overall, the industry has lost more than $40 billion in revenue in the past ten years alone. And the trend isn't predicted to end any time soon. 

The Pew Research Center’s annual State of the Media 2013 report, which came out this morning, suggests the industry’s fundamentals are still somber:
·      Print advertising fell again, and not by a little — down $1.5 billion in 2012 to dip below $20 billion for the first time since 1982.
·      Classifieds losses are no longer the culprit. National advertising, already weak in 2011, fell by roughly 10 percent. That suggests that the shift of budgets to a range of digital marketing options is accelerating. The exception is preprinted inserts, for now still an essential part of the marketing mix for major retailers.
·      Digital advertising, its rates ever lower, grew very slowly (3 percent) and came nowhere close to covering print losses (one dollar gained for every 16 lost in print). Audience for smart phone and tablet news reports continues to grow quickly, but accompanying advertising is largely a no-show.

Statistically speaking, even a sagging economy isn't enough to account for the industry’s depressing fate. In fact, the revenues didn’t so much disappear as relocate. If you look at the biggest online advertising winner during that same time frame Google, who else? you'll notice that since 2009, its revenues have soared to $46 billion, while the newspaper industry has seen its revenue decline to around $20 billion. Coincidence? Hardly.

What are Newspapers Doing to Get Back to Profitability?

ACPL's E-reader fair
ACPL's E-reader fair (Photo credit: ACPL)
The numbers don’t lie and neither do publishers who are desperate to find a way to stem the slide toward dissolution. A number of dailies have accomplished this by gutting their reporting staff, while others have taken the “If you can’t beat them, join them” stance by attempting to merge print and online venues. Every daily under the sun has commissioned an online version where it streams some stories and offers ads. While this has helped stem the tide somewhat, it's still unlikely to turn the financial slide around for most print venues. What's needed is innovation. Here are a few ideas being touted within the industry:

1.  E-Readers – Hearst, which owns the "Seattle Post Intelligencer," is experimenting with the idea of creating a Kindle-like electronic-reader device for its publications. People would receive the gadget when they subscribe, and it would regularly download issues. While there are still questions about how cheaply Hearst could create such a device, it shows that its executives are thinking outside the box, rather than just throwing in the towel.

2. Erect a Pay Wall – A number of dailies including the "New York Times" and "Newsday" offer readers a limited number of online articles for free. Those who desire more access pay a subscription fee to gain access to the publication’s more complete electronic version.

3. Create Interactive Newspapers – The idea would be to bring interactivity to the newspapers and inducing the reader into it. A similar kind of thing has been once done in India by Volkswagen where
The Daily wordle
The Daily wordle (Photo credit: Orangeadnan)
they attached a recorded message, which played whenever a reader unfolded the last page [1]. Touch screens of suitable dimensions with some flash memory would be stitched into the newspapers, which would be pre-programmed. A user would just need to touch the screen to get the video played. Similarly, an audio player, which upon selection, would read out the particular news. To get an idea how it would look like, recall the scene in "Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone," where one can see that characters in movie read newspapers whose layout and content changed magically. Today, newspapers would like to make it happen digitally.

4. Create new reporting models – New online models will spring up as traditional papers retreat. One non-profit group, NewAssignment.Net, plans to combine the work of amateurs and professionals, to produce investigative stories on the Internet. Aptly, $10,000 of cash for the project has come from Craig Newmark, founder of a group of free classified-advertisement websites that has probably done more than anything to destroy newspapers' classifieds' income. Craigslist,
While the problems in the newspaper industry are many and the solutions few, what is clear, is that if print venues hope to survive in the digital age, they need to find models that can cross the generation and technological gap to deliver all the news that’s fit to stream. To do this they're going to have to start innovating as well as interacting with and listening to their readers ... And bring back "the funnies"!

“While editors and newspaper owners currently fret over shrinking readership and lost profits, they do the one thing that insures cutting their own throats; they keep reducing space for the one feature that attracts new young readers in the first place; the comic strips.” Elayne Boosler

In this article I've discussed the decline of the newspaper industry and how printed news publications are struggling to get back to profitability. I explore how some are embracing the Internet and now moving to providing digital media and new technologies in an effort to adapt to our new digital-centric world.

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Since 1995, Carl Weiss has been helping clients succeed online.  He owns and operates several online marketing businesses, including Working the Web to Win and Jacksonville Video Production. He also co-hosts the weekly radio show, "Working the Web to Win," every Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern on

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  1. I thought the guests you had on this week's program were both excellent.

  2. Like the dinosaurs, newspapers are being faced with two choices: Evolve or Die.

  3. Very intriguing episode. I also thought the guests were excellent. Wish there'd been time to hear more from them.

  4. Very interesting information. There are several of the Old Guard facing the threat of being irrelevant.

  5. Thanks for sharing this amazing and informative article ... enjoyed every bit of it .. :)