Cox Enterprises announced last week that it plans to sell the Austin American-Statesman as well as 28 other daily and weekly newspapers. This comes the same week both the Tribune Co. and E.W. Scripps Co. took significant write down charges and is reminiscent of Knight Ridder’s sale to the McClatchy Company two years ago. The media industry is continuing to consolidate due to digital distribution and the venerable city newspaper is dying.
The erosion of newspaper circulation and consequently advertising revenue has been expected for several years, however the industry as a whole has done little to reinvent itself and build a new profitable business model. The obstacle preventing success is clearly the new online medium. Back in April, Nicholas Carr wrote about the impact of unbudling the print newspaper product on the Internet. The problem is online readers can view articles a la carte and completely avoid the sections that subsidize high investment articles like investigative reports. Each article now becomes an individual product and unfortunately the most profitable articles are short, product oriented and match advertiser interests. This sounds eerily similar to the now famous article in the The Atlantic that looked at how online consumption is not only impacting content, but also how we process information.
A great example of how newspapers are being outflanked by new media that often panders to the lowest common denominator was when the L.A. Times, the U.S.’s fourth largest paper, stated that it had 127 million page views in July. Unfortunately the blog network Gawker Media received 254 page view during the same period. While it is true that Gawker Media serves a national audience, the L.A. Times would likely argue the same. Surely it should have higher page views than an online tabloid.
Despite the current landscape, local newspapers can survive. I believe in 5 to 10 years most markets will have a single local media and for all their faults, most online newspaper sites are technologically further along than their local broadcast counterparts. Now is the time to invest in online video and intensive local coverage. Local newspapers can outsource national news with recognized blogs that cover specific niches. The Washington Post has already begun experimenting with this in their technology section.
This week the Pew Research Center released findings on current news consumption trends in the U.S. Unsurprisingly, it found that in the last two years there was a 6 percent drop in the number of people that said they read a newspaper the day before. I also learned there is now a category that defines how I receive the news – Net-Newsers.
Lastly, here is a great segment from Costas Now that takes a look at the collision of traditional media and new media and its impact on quality journalism. For reference, Deadspin is a Gawker Media blog.