Siliconcowboy's Blog

Technology, journalism, social media and social responsibility

Newspapers Are Here to Stay

Late this afternoon, Mashable posted a story by staff writer Lauren Indvik noting that “a huge gap remains between mainstream media and the social web.”

As far as I am concerned, this is a good thing.

Quoting a recent study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, she notes that the largest area of alignment is between traditional newspapers and websites that also report on the news.  Bloggers, she said, tend to focus on emotionally charged topics such as health care or Facebook privacy.

She also notes that while bloggers regularly cite traditional news outlets as their source (almost half cite US newspapers), the reverse is rarely true: traditional papers almost never cite their news as coming from the online community.

Another important observation: different social media report on different topics. Blogs tend to report on news, Twitter users tend to report on technology, and YouTube vlogs tend to report on politics and foreign events.

All of this echoes a report many months ago by Silicon Valley Watcher Tom Foremski, who observed that each social media platform has its own audiences with their own expectations about what should be delivered to that platform. Facebook, he noted, is where personal conversations take place. Twitter is more for dynamic, which makes it a good place for breaking events.

In any case, I think there’s another important observation to be made:  Newspapers are not going away.

In an editorial today, Margaret Sullivan of the Buffalo (NY) News notes that despite the dire predictions one year ago, very few US newspapers have actually gone out of business.

“Of the roughly 1,400 American dailies, 11 have gone out of business in the past two years, well under one percent,” she writes.  “And among those that did fold, a number were in cities with more than one major paper.” Such titles included the Rocky Mountain News and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Further, she noted, newspaper profit margins, after falling for many years, may actually improve this year, according to a new J.P. Morgan analysis, as revenue declines moderate and newspaper companies reap the results of cost-cutting.

“That’s not to say all is rosy in newspaper land,” she notes.  “Advertising revenue is down. Print circulation is, too – with the problem especially acute among the young.”

But, she says, “newspapers still have a lot going for them. As sources of news and information, especially in the role of government watchdogs, they continue to outshine Web and broadcast outlets.”

All of which supports the research noted by Mashable.

So while Mashable’s Indvik concludes that “if traditional news companies want to succeed online — that is, if they want to attract a large number of page views and be relevant to users on the web — they may need to alter their content to match readers’ interests,” I’m not so sure.

“Newspapers continue to be the best source for news and enterprise journalism,” said Sullivan. “We remain committed to investigative and rigorous reporting.”

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3 comments on “Newspapers Are Here to Stay

  1. Bill Bucy
    May 26, 2010

    Let’s not confuse the medium with the message.

    There’s no reason that a newspaper must be responsible and balanced (many aren’t) and there’s no reason that digital delivery demands shallowness and less-than-quality reporting. The practical difference between the two worlds is editorial resources and even that is disappearing as newspapers shrink to survive.

    First-rate journalism can stand alone and survive as long as there is any open medium to carry it.

  2. Jay
    May 29, 2010

    I suppose it’s fair to point out that only 11 daily newspapers have completely gone out of business, and that they continue to have a gap between Internet and print news, etc.. However, if you happened to be one of the many people working for newspapers who were laid off during the last few years (as I was – and seeing those numbers continue to rise), you may see the situation differently.

    All for print and it’s survival here, though there comes a time when newspapers have to pull their blinders off and invest more resources into making their product actually survive in the digital future. It’s inevitable now that tablets and ebooks are becoming mass-produced products. Many print newspapers (even the one previously with was in top ten for circulation numbers) don’t simply have the innovative vision or want to invest in obtaining talent to beef up their digital presence so they can grow instead of dwindle, say 10 more years down the road.

    Papers like the NYT and Tribune are venturing into that digital realm now and coming up with good ideas. Though also as there are other companies sometimes coming up with better ideas to digially circulate quality news material, you can expect to see the number of those remaining dailies continue to close down. Bottom line: unless a newspaper has the ability to innovate their product as well as report quality news, their reporting efforts may not be enough in the end. And yes, it’s sad to realize that. Read here for more updates: http://mashable.com/2010/05/18/innovative-news-websites/

  3. siliconcowboy
    May 30, 2010

    Jay, you are absolutely right and I made pretty much the same observation in a blog back in January. Newspapers absolutely have to adapt to the digital age. My point was that they aren’t going to get there simply by mimicking what bloggers do, that would just make them one of the many online bloggers. Newspaper reporters are already creating a good percentage of the original, high-quality content on the internet. In many cases, people still regard the news story as the authoritative source.

    I think what is happening is simply that there are a hell of a lot more blog sites available to the average reader on a daily basis, especially with the introduction of Twitter. So instead of competing with the newsroom across town for readers, journalists are now competing with thousands of available news sites every day, and many of these are extremely authoritative.

    I think the real challenge is to recreate the newsroom such that it recognizes and engages with its various communities. They can no longer continue to operate as one-way sources of information. There has to be a dialog, or readers will simply move on to wherever they can find it.

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