Ryan Blethen / The Democracy Papers
Newspapers are alive, kicking, holding their own online and transforming
Newspapers have a future, writes Ryan Blethen, Seattle Times editorial-page editor. Contrary to predictions of technology executives about newspapers' pending demise, traditional media readership is strong and holding its own with impressive numbers online. The industry will adapt.
Times editorial page editor
Technology executives are wrong about newspapers. It has become vogue for these modern-day titans to downplay the future of newspapers.
They tell conventioneers that newspapers won't survive another decade. Or they talk out of one side of their mouth about the importance of investigative journalism but then continue to get rich off newspaper content with no intention of compensating newspapers for that content.
These crystal-ball prognostications are wrong and really nothing more than self-serving posturing to gain control of online advertising.
It's true that newspapers will need to be players for online advertising revenue to survive. I'm convinced any newspaper that couples innovation with an aggressive sales staff should be able to make the transition to an engaging print/online hybrid.
Contrary to popular belief, newspapers still make money from print advertising and paid circulation. Enough so that print won't disappear anytime soon. The story is being told with recent encouraging earnings reports by some public newspaper companies and a couple studies about online audience.
The Newspaper Association of America commissioned studies with Nielsen and Mori Research. Nielsen found that newspapers had 70.3 million unique online readers in June, which was 36 percent of Web-site users that month. That is a lot of eyeballs that spent 2.7 billion minutes at newspaper Web sites with 3.5 billion page views.
Advertisers should notice these impressive numbers. They should also read the Mori study that found 82 percent of 3,000 adults surveyed said that they acted because of newspaper advertising.
These are encouraging numbers that tell a very different story than the widely spread falsehood that newspapers are dying and soon to be dead. There is no question newspapers have been struggling but almost every industry has taken a hit during the recession.
Newspapers should be able to generate healthy revenue from those numbers. There is not going to be one magic bullet that saves newspapers. There will always be pressure in economic downturns for any business reliant on advertising. Publishers are going to have to build a diverse base of revenue that is not so beholden to swings in the market.
What newspapers don't need is for regulatory agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission, Federal Trade Commission or the Department of Justice to loosen antitrust laws that allow for more media consolidation.
The head of the FTC said in an interview last week with TheWrap that he wants to hold a series of meetings to try and figure out how to save the news industry. One of the ideas he wants to hear more about is the easing of antitrust rules. Bad idea.
Part of the reason newspapers are in a tough place is because of consolidation. The bigs took on an extraordinary amount of debt to grow and are now crushed by that load. In no way would buying a TV station help a newspaper. If that did work the newspapers that own TV stations wouldn't be struggling, which they are.
What newspapers need is new policy — whether that be through a combination of tax structure, strengthened cross-ownership rules or new revenue from search engines — that promotes an independent press.
The tech execs might not like it but newspapers have a future.
Ryan Blethen's column appears Sunday on the editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
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