It seems like each time a newspaper implements a bold new strategy or deviates from its traditional business model, pundits interpret those changes as acts of desperation. Interestingly, these are often the same pundits who claim newspapers are not changing fast enough.
Developments such as reduction of publication frequency and online subscriptions should be viewed through an objective lens – as the innovation needed to secure quality journalism and a sustainable business model for the future.
The transformation of newspapers is based on several factors. Changing business dynamics are forcing newspapers to rethink how best to use their strengths - local news and content, local sales forces, insights about the community and strong local brands.
For example, newspapers are focused on investing in original content most valued by their communities - enterprise journalism essential to society - and finding new approaches to other kinds of news. Digital platforms are giving newspapers the ability to offer advertisers more choices, better measurement tools and a greater return on their investment.
Second, newspapers are working to build sustainable online businesses. While printed newspapers certainly have an audience for the foreseeable future, there is no question that digital is the platform of the future. News products that use the best of both – the serendipity, brows-ability and depth of newspapers with the immediacy, share-ability and discovery of digital – have an advantage among consumers.
Finally, newspapers must focus on their position at home. Research shows newspapers are the most trusted media outlets in their communities. They are working to maintain that position as hubs of local information, activity and conversation.
Newspapers will survive because the value they provide to readers and advertisers is enduring in this new digital ecosystem, as the data show.
A Newspaper Association of America study conducted by Frank A. Magid Associates shows 74 percent of Internet users in a given week turn to content originated by newspapers. For newspapers, this means more ways to attract new audiences and build revenue.
An Online Publishers Association study reveals 41 percent of tablet users regularly access local news - the third most popular activity on the device. (Watching video and getting weather information - both of which can be done with newspaper sites and apps - rank first and second.)
And, according to comScore, newspapers are better at building audience from mobile devices than the Internet overall. Mobile has yet to find a solid advertising proposition but when it does – along with video and other new platforms – newspapers will be well prepared to take advantage of that growing business.
A key area of strength for newspapers is top-notch journalism. Consumers still value quality journalism by trained reporters and informed judgments by editors. Their stories start the conversation in the media ecosphere.
Let’s not forget print: It continues to be a valued way to access local information and find advertising deals for many readers. Pew Research Center reports that newspapers are a top source for readers - or tied as the top source - in 11 of 16 areas of news. According to Magid Associates' research for NAA, readers overwhelmingly view ads in newspapers as more trustworthy than those in other media.
Last November, newspapers online accounted for more than 113 unique visitors a month, which represents nearly 64 percent of Internet users. Newspapers in print and online reach 58 percent of the 18 to 34 age group in an average week.
Industry leaders are not naïve, nor are they in denial about the challenges they face. But while there is no magical solution, a strategy is in place: Find new revenue sources; lessen reliance on traditional business models; and find new ways to use newspapers' competitive strengths to serve readers and advertisers.
Newspapers won’t get it right every time. What industry or company ever does? But the path to success requires the continual innovation, based on deep research and measurement, we now see taking place industry-wide.
Passionate discourse about the future of the newspaper industry, I believe, is driven by anxiety about the potential disappearance of the vital role newspapers play in our society. That anxiety is understandable. Industry leaders are working hard to make sure it doesn’t happen.
The pundits may write us off. The marketplace has not.
Caroline Little is president and CEO of the Newspaper Association of America.