By Jason Stverak
Headlines read, “Newspapers are dying” and “Struggling newspapers fear the future.” The future for traditional newspapers is grave at best.
This doomsday outlook for newspapers has been repeatedly reiterated in study after study. From polls showing dwindling circulations numbers to surveying the social media platforms that people now use for news, these studies have shown that traditional newspapers are no longer a thriving business model.
However, a new study was recently released by the Newspaper National Network that found the number of unique visitors to US newspaper websites is at an all-time high. From March to April 2010, the top 25 markets grew 10 percent reaching 83.7 million. These visitors generated a total of more than 2 billion page views in April, up 24 percent from 1.6 billion page views in January.
This study is a strong indicator that journalism isn’t dead. Nor is the quest for news diminishing as the newspaper industry has struggled. And while newspapers lay off journalists and fail to meet the needs of the public, it is now apparent that Americans are actively finding an alternative source to keep abreast on the news they care about.
Another interesting aspect of this study is that newspaper websites, collectively, were more popular than sites like CNN.com or MSNBC.com. This is a dramatic change of website usage of the past. No longer, are most Americans turning to national news sites before browsing their own local newspapers.
This is great news for every newsroom around the nation. In fact, this may be the silver lining for the survival of newspapers. By turning attention to optimizing their website, these newspapers may be able to save themselves from bankruptcy, laying off staff, and ultimately shutting their doors for good.
The bad news is newspapers have yet to figure out a way to generate enough circulation and advertising revenue from the Web to restore historic profit margins of almost 30 percent for publicly held companies, and as high as 50 percent for privately held.
Succeeding online is not as easy as some may think. And for those editors who have read the Newspaper National Network survey and are planning to bolster their website and in return charge their readers to offset the cost might be surprised at the results. Long Island’s daily paper spent roughly $4 million to redesign and re-launch its site, charging online readers $5 a week, or $260 a year, to get total access to news. In three months only 35 people signed up. Newsday’s free Web traffic nosedived, and advertising revenue decreased.
Industry analysts estimate equivalent Web advertising generates less than 10 percent the revenue of lost print advertising.
Joining the information revolution is a balancing act that both small and large newspapers must turn to to keep afloat. The Internet is not going away and neither are the problems with print newspapers.
Editors must face reality, put greater resources into their websites and adapt to new models for gathering news. By utilizing the Internet, newspapers have the opportunity to involve citizens, broaden their reader base and attract a network of loyal followers.
Jason Stverak is the President of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a leading journalism non-profit organization. The Franklin Center is dedicated to providing investigative reporters and non-profit organizations at the state and local level with training, expertise, and technical support. For more information on the Franklin Center please visit www.FranklinCenterHQ.org