Don’t Count Newspapers Out Just Yet …

For any PR pro who has jumped on the bandwagon and thinks that newspapers no longer matter, I urge you to read a great report just out from the Poynter Institute. The report sought to measure the total online and print reach of newspapers in their local markets, and the results may surprise you.

First: newspapers still reach a massive audience. The combined local market reach (online and print) of the top-20 newspapers is 47,370,687. That’s 15 percent of the U.S.’ 307 million population. (Note: The Wall Street Journal and USA Today were excluded because their local market isn’t clearly defined.)

via Poynter.org

I don’t know about you, but if I’m able to tap into even a sliver of that size of an audience, I’m absolutely going to give newspapers a bit more of my attention going forward.

Perhaps most surprising, however, is which papers tops the list: it’s the New York Daily News at 4,56248. Long locked in a battle with its New York City tabloid rival, Rupert Murdoch’s beloved New York Post, the Daily News even beats out the vaunted New York Times. (As a New York City resident, I don’t find this too surprising. The Times tends to cover NYC as more of an afterthought.)

Second: While print circulation in the U.S. continues to fall (down 5 percent in the six-month period ended Sept. 30, 2010), combined print-plus-digital reach of newspapers is on the rise.

What does this portend for the PR industry and those who are tasked with pitching our hearts out?

For one thing, newspapers are absolutely going to remain relevant and will continue to be an important source of information for consumers. Yes, the Pew Project for Excellent in Journalism report, just out two weeks ago, found that for the first time, more people (41%) get their new online than via newspapers (34%).

But here again, we cast aside newspapers at our own peril. As Pew noted last year, a staggering 99% of links in blog posts were to legacy media outlets (read: print newspapers). Fifty percent of links on Twitter are to the same.

So, are newspaper dead? If these numbers are any indication, I’d say not a chance. They are just morphing into more vibrant forms of media. Just like PR’s value continues to grow and change over time.

Happy pitching!

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  • Keith,

    Great post. I still see the value in print and I think a vast majority of PR pros do as well. When we pitch, we would love to ultimately see a great feature story. It starts with print, then can be translated into web and social media hits.

    • Exactly. Look, let’s be honest with ourselves: Clients, employers, bosses … you name it … they still like the visual and tactile power of print. People always have, and I don’t envision that going away any time soon. That’s why I think what the NYT is doing with its paywall may actually work out in the end. Oh sure, The Times is getting a ton of flack right now for supposedly overpricing the paywall to retain its print readership base, and thus, its advertiser base. But so what? Who says they can’t co-exist in some way?

      In my view, print is best when it provides broad perspective on the day’s or week’s or month’s big news. Online works well when it gives you that quick hit of satisfaction of what is moving the day’s news, the markets, industries, etc.

      The paper I find that does this best is the Financial Times. Short and succinct. You don’t read anything in the print edition that you absolutely don’t need. But then FT.com is vibrant and a great resource for the day’s breaking business news. That’s the model for newspapers I’d like to see going forward.

  • Keith– thanks so much for the post. So many communications professionals are saying that newspapers are dying, and putting it as “morphing into more vibrant forms of media” is fantastic. Very encouraging!

  • Keith, thanks for the post. You bring up some really good points. I believe newspaper companies can absolutely thrive if they stop doing the one thing that has really hurt their perception in the past few years — focusing on the paper product instead of their core product, the news.

    There is no reason newspaper companies can’t remain go-to information outlets online, especially from a hyper-local perspective. As the Pew study indicates, they are often the conversation starters online. Where newspapers have died and will continue to die is if they keep trying to cram a paper product down peoples’ throats. What is it we always tell our clients — understand your customers and how they want to communicate. Newspaper companies do that and they’ll be in good shape.

    • Spot-on points. The news value vs. “we’re a newspaper first and foremost” mindset has absolutely been a detriment to the newspaper business and its clear value to the public and businesses. At the end of the day, newspapers hold something very valuable: resources and information that people absolutely have shown they need, want and if done right, will pay for.

      It’s a shame that it’s taken so very, very long for many papers to realize that being a “newspaper” isn’t their core product, it’s news, as you rightly point out.

  • Thanks, as always, Keith, for some (at least for the moment!) encouraging news. I was just talking with my “Principles of PR” class at Curry College today about this very subject. Newspapers will continue to serve a valuable and much-needed role in the communication of news and information. For me, the day doesn’t officially begin until I have ink on my fingers at the breakfast table!

    • I’m right there with you, Kirk. It’s an odd quirk of mine, but I just don’t feel like I’m ready to tackle the day unless I’ve gone through at least the top-line bits of the Wall Street Journal and the FT. Combine that with scans of NYT and the front pages of some of the major dailies (thank you Newseum for your fantastic “Today’s Front Pages” service!), and I’m ready to go.

      The one thing I find that takes some adjustment is reading papers online or via my Nook e-reader. I find that I read articles faster via the e-reader but unlike a print paper, it’s hard for me to discern what is the day’s top news that I absolutely need to know. With no physical layout, it’s tough to see how the news flow is setting the national or business agenda.

  • Newspapers have a shelf life of another generation before they die out. I give it 20 years.

    Bookstores will remain, but publishing houses for newspapers will be gone.

    Until then, don’t lose hope.