Are Newspapers on Death’s Door?

Marketing in agriculture newspaperU.S. newspaper advertising revenue fell 7% in the first quarter of 2011, according to the Newspaper Association of America, bringing sales revenue to its lowest point in nearly three decades.

That’s it, right? The print newspaper as a source for information has gone the way of cursive handwriting—something our kids will someday see in a museum. It’s hard to argue that the world of digital is making great strides when it comes to what really matters to advertisers…eyeballs. However, just because print advertising revenue is on a rapid decline doesn’t mean the newspaper industry is all but kaput.

Instead, I would argue that the print newspaper industry’s long-term transition to digital platforms is proceeding rather nicely for the most part. And, for those that do survive, they will have a very captive and loyal audience. When everyone and their dog is “blogging” and “tweeting” what they think people want to know, and traditional newspapers become fewer and fewer, investigative news (no, I’m not talking about TMZ) will be very much sought after and only available at a premium. That premium will keep the newspaper industry smiling all the way to the bank as consumers, followed by advertisers, create a demand that must be fed by someone.

What’s missing?
If you’ve taken to signing up for Tweets and RSS feeds and your favorite blogs, you’ve probably noticed there are really not a lot of in-depth articles on things that matter and people SHOULD know; rather, just superficial stuff on what businesses and editors think people WANT to know. There’s a huge difference in the two. And without true newspaper journalists (not blogger wannabes) as community watchdogs, readers’ skepticism meters are going to continue to rise at a rapid pace.

Very few online articles are validated. Most writers don’t even cite a source when reporting. A story is simply given as fact, and after thousands of people have read it and passed it along, it’s retracted as untrue. Take a look at the recent online reporting of the Osama Bin Laden media blitz. First they said there was a firefight. Then they said there was no firefight. Then they said there was a firefight across the street at another compound. Then they said he used his wife as a human shield. Then they said no. So what really happened?

Well, it’s been said that yesterday’s news is all the print newspaper industry is good for, but I’d argue that it’s good for providing context, facts, and sources.  You know, the difference between rumors and hearsay and what we used to know as news.

The bottom line? The newspaper industry is not dead. It’s just taking a back seat to alternative media at the moment while undergoing a metamorphosis. As long as there is a demand for dependable, accurate, and factual news, the newspaper industry and the journalists who make their living reporting it will become more, not less, valuable in the eyes of consumers. And the subscription base and advertising revenue will follow.

Photo: Matt Callow