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Klark Byrd: Newspapers are alive and well

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Bloggers and other online media outlets were quick this week to usher newspapers to their death beds following the release of a Newspaper Association of America report that found advertising revenue for the newspaper industry again declined in 2012, this time dropping to its lowest point since 1950.

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"It took 50 years for annual newspaper print ad revenue to gradually increase from $20 billion in 1950 (adjusted for inflation) to $65 billion in 2000, and then it took only 12 years to go from $65 billion back to less than $19 billion in 2012!" wrote Mark J. Perry for AEI-Ideas.org.

Facts are facts, folks, and it's an irrefutible fact that newspaper print ad revenue has been in steady decline across the nation since high-speed Internet connections became commercially available.

For a number of years after ad revenue peaked, newspapers were in denial of their need to implement fundamental change in order to survive. Then the big boys started having trouble staying afloat, i.e., Tribune Co. (FYI, Tribune Co. emerged from a four-year bankruptcy in December of last year in a position to rid itself of its newspaper companies such as The Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune reported.)

Why the denial as Internet usage really took off? Well, it certainly wasn't the first time another industry had rung a death bell for newspapers.

When radio first broadcast advertisements into American homes and automobiles, it was said the end was nigh for newspapers. The rhetoric increased as radio stations started broadcasting the news. Who would read the news when they could listen to it?

But then along came TV with its ability to bring the sights and sounds of advertisers right into the living rooms of American consumers. The technology advanced and advertisements quickly became colorful shows dancing before glazed-over eyes.

Through it all, newspapers survived and, as reported by Perry, thrived on print advertising revenue until 2000. That's because newspapers and readers had grown comfortable in the industry's ability to offer in-depth reports in a mobile format. Although radio has been mobile for decades, both it and TV have limited broadcast time available for news. Their leg up has always been their ability to report instantly from the scene, bringing their audience the news as it unfolds. This certainly has its drawbacks as well, as the Dec. 14, 2012, mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., showed us. Squabbling to be the first TV station to bring the news to America, plenty of misinformation was aired and little of it was officially corrected later, with most outlets simply airing updated stories that failed to acknowledge incorrectly reported details.

The widespread availability of the Internet has given rise to bloggers, some of whom refer to their blog as a media outlet, and online-only news sites. While neither of these alternatives have encountered newfound wealth due to declining newspaper print ad revenue, they certainly have utilized the Internet's increasingly mobile platform to spread their messages and reports.

Eventually, though, newspapers grew uncomfortable with continued ad revenue loss and thus the industry begrudgingly shifted gears by embracing the Internet, starting blogs and podcasts, utilizing social media and infusing their print products with scannable codes linking stories and ads to more content online.

The result: Newspapers have made incredible gains in circulation, especially those that serve their local markets first. I've witnessed this myself, having been a reporter for a Nebraska newspaper, an IT manager for five newspapers from Nebraska to Wyoming to Montana and now as an editor in North Dakota. The offset of that gain is a reduced dependency on print ad revenue, which, according to the NAA report, comprised 45 percent of the industry's total revenue in 2012.

As newspapers continue to integrate their print and digital products, it's the customers – both readers and advertisers – who will benefit the most, which in turn benefits the industry.

So I'm afraid the bloggers and online media sites will have to get in line if they want to keep shouting "Bring out your dead" at newspapers because newspapers are here to stay for quite some time.

You can find the NAA's full report at www.naa.org/Trends-and-Numbers/Newspaper-Revenue/Newspaper-Media-Industr....

Klark Byrd is the news editor for The Dickinson (N.D.) Press. Email him at kbyrd@thedickinsonpress.com or tweet him at klarkbyrd.

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