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How bad is the newspaper industry’s decline? It depends who you ask

by | Jun 29, 2018 | Public Relations

Few industries have been as battered in the Internet age as the newspaper business. This traditional-media mainstay has seen incredible decline—in circulation, advertising dollars, and staff, not to mention influence and import. But somehow they have persevered, and remain an essential part of the media landscape.

Of course, this is in large part due to their companion online news sites. However, according to a recent newspaper fact sheet from the Pew Research Center, the well-being of these sites is harder to measure than that of their printstock brethren. The largest dailies in the U.S., for example, have not fully reported their digital reach to the Alliance for Audited Media (AAM), the organization that audits these numbers—which makes it difficult to accurately analyze the true state of these media.

Case in point: both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have, according to the AAM, seen their digital circulations fall significantly for both weekday and Sunday subscription packages over the past year. However, according to independently produced reports from those dailies, both reported sizable gains in digital circulation in 2017—26 percent for the Journal, and a whopping 42 percent for the Times. So are digital circulations sinking as suspected, or actually experiencing a boomtime?

How bad is the newspaper industry’s decline? It depends who you ask

It’s certainly easier to report the trajectory of print newspapers—weekday and Sunday circulations in 2017 were down more than 10 percent from the previous year. And their total circulations, including both print and online, were also shown to have declined steeply last year. But if the individually produced reports from the Journal and Times are any indication, then total circulations may be much stronger than we think.

How bad is the newspaper industry’s decline? It depends who you ask

The websites of many U.S. dailies, on the other hand, reportedly did not receive enough traffic to even be measured by comScore, which supplied the Pew Research data. So the numbers in the fact sheet for digital circulations are more accurately estimations, reflecting the top 50 dailies.

An increasingly important piece of the newspaper industry now is what is known as “alt-weeklies,“ the free tabloid-style papers available in most U.S. cities focusing on arts, culture and community news. Although the numbers are also harder to tabulate than those of daily newspapers, the average circulation for the top 20 alt-weeklies has also reportedly declined by 10 percent since 2016.

How bad is the newspaper industry’s decline? It depends who you ask

Other highlights from the fact sheet:

  • The average number of minutes per visit to the websites of the top 50 U.S. dailies in 2017 was about two-and-a-half minutes, roughly the same as the prior year.
  • The total estimated circulation revenue for the newspaper industry as a whole in 2017 was $11 billion, up 3 percent from the prior year.
  • Digital advertising accounted for 31 percent of advertising revenue for newspapers in 2017, up from 29 percent in 2016 and 17 percent in 2011.
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 39,210 people worked in the newspaper industry in 2017, as reporters, editors, photographers, and film and video editors—-a number which is down 15 percent from 2014 and an astounding 45 percent from 2004.
  • The average editor earned about $49,000 in 2017, and the average reporter earned about $34,000.

The charts shown appeared in the Pew Research Center’s Newspapers Fact Sheet, published June 13, 2018.

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Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 12 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richardc@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter

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