Thursday, March 17, 2011

In this case, no news is still bad news for newspapers


This week, what most of the journalist world already knew was coming, and what many print journalists dreaded, arrived with little fanfare although perhaps to some it sounds a lot like that other shoe everybody's always saying is going to fall.

More people in 2010 said they got their news online rather than from newspapers. And, also last year, more advertising dollars went to the Internet than to newspapers, a clear reminder that if the industry does not hurry and catch up on the new business model it should have started shaping 10 years ago, it will go the way of the dodo bird.

That might not be a bad thing. Journalists will still be out there but will have to find other ways of plying their trade if their employers are not.


Perhaps that is too grim a prediction, and I don't pretend to be some kind of prophet. But many in this industry's think tanks have been far smarter than I have been predicting this for several years.

In fact, I started hearing predictions about two years ago that printed newspapers would be a thing of the past in five to 10 years. So based on their estimates, there's between three and seven years left for the printed page.

The polling information came out in the Poynter Institute’s annual State of the Media report, which was written about on Mashable.com, where I came across it Wednesday afternoon.

Surveys by the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism showed 34 percent of respondents said they read news online within the past 24 hours (31 percent favored newspapers); and a full 41 percent said they get most of their news online (31 percent said they got most of their news from a newspaper). And of course those between the ages 18 to 29 overwhelmingly cast their vote (65 percent) for the web as their main news source, Mashable reported.

Also, year marks the first time online advertising outpaced newspaper advertising. The sector grew 13.9 percent between 2009 and 2010 to reach a $25.8 billion total. Not all of that ad spend went to online news publications; in fact, search advertising continues to dominate the online ad spend landscape.

It doesn't take a genius to read between the lines and see that the older readers are dying out and the younger, more tech-savvy readers are coming into their own – and they're here to stay.

According to Mashable, Poynter’s annual State of the Media report showed that the web was the second most popular source of news; local television news is still the No. 1 source for most people. Local TV also led in revenues, with digital media coming in second.

 Also, Mashable said, online news media was the only medium that saw growth year-over-year; from radio to television to newspapers and magazines, every other medium saw a decline in audience.

I'll interject here that when I moved from the copy desk to the Web content desk at Sun-Times Media, we were told a couple of times during the years of tumultuous layoffs that the company's new media department was the only one in the company that was seeing revenues rise. I have to express doubts, however, that that remained true through 2008, when the nation was in the midst of the Great Recession.

I guess the upshot to all this is that fewer people are reading the printed word, but even that's no surprise. I haven't actually sat down to read a printed paper in years because, unlike my parents and others I know who are older than me, I actually enjoy reading off a computer screen – when I can actually read the print. I'm noticing more and more websites are opting for gray type or even colored print that is difficult to read.

And given that eyesight changes with age, the tech-savvy folks designing these sites are virtually guaranteeing that many among the older generation of baby boomers will not want to log on. That's sad enough, but what's sadder still is the people designing these sites may prove to be the loudest whiners when they reach that age at which the eyes begin to focus a little differently and the typography on websites becomes difficult to read.

By the way, the Poynter study did show that the Internet is not the mostly widely used media platform for news. Television remains No. 1, followed by Internet, newspapers and radio.

Hmm, that sounded like a footstep. I wonder if that is what the other shoe sounds like when it falls.