Digital consumption hurts and helps news industry, says Pew report

Newspapers are starting to successfully adapt to the challenges and opportunities posed by digital news consumption, according to the The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism report, The State of the News Media 2013.

by WAN-IFRA Staff | March 18, 2013

The report, released today, revealed that as in previous years, online news consumption was the only category of news to show growth in 2012. It rose sharply the last two years, following the rapid spread of digital platforms.

While digital media continues to threaten the newspaper industry, it also has the potential to force newspapers to experiment with new media.“For the first time since the deep recession that began in 2007, newspaper organizations have grounds for a modicum of optimism,” said the report.

“Companies have started to experiment in a big way with a variety of new revenue streams and major organizational changes,” the report continued.

One of these new revenue streams is, of course, digital subscription plans. So far, 450 of 1,380 U.S. dailies have started or announced plans for some kind of paid online content or paywall plan.

The New York Times, which has offered paid digital subscriptions since 2011, earned more money with paid subscriptions and purchases than with advertising revenues, a first for the paper. Across the country, digital pay plans are helping add new revenues and reduce dependence on advertising.

The study shows 31 percent of adults owned a tablet as of 2013—about four times as in May 2011—and the same amount reported spending more time with the news, while 43 percent reported that they are adding to the news they consume. The top 25 news sites saw a combined 7 percent increase in unique monthly visitors in 2012, according to Pew.

The rise of paid digital content could also have a positive impact on the quality of journalism, as news organizations strive to produce high-quality content that the public believes is worth paying for.

However, more and more people are turning to digital outlets for breaking news, weather and traffic content—traditionally the bread-and-butter of local news. 31% of Americans say they have given up reading a newspaper because it no longer provided them with the information to which they had become accustomed.

Google has become a dominant force in digital news, impacting traditional media groups. “News organizations are increasingly dependent on Google and a handful of other powerful tech firms for the tools and platforms needed to reach their audience,” the Pew report said.

A rise in digital consumption means a rise in social media news. Audiences now consume more news through social media than ever before. A June 2012 Pew Research Center study found that 19% of Americans saw news or news headlines on a social network “yesterday,” more than double the 9% who’d done so in 2010. Facebook and Twitter are the most popular social media sites for sharing news.

Mobile news consumption is driving the social media growth but is a “mixed blessing” for news organizations according to Pew. The decision on how much a publication should devoting time and resources to social media poses a challenge.

“A lot of the challenge is in rebalancing the company,” says Marc Frons, chief information officer of The New York Times. “How do you shrink expenses on the print side enough so that you have more money to devote to digital growth?”

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