December 01, 2008
/ by Katrina M Mendolera
Newspapers Ditching Print for Digital
It’s been a year of bad tidings for the newspaper industry as a number of noteworthy newspapers ditched their print-based foundations in favor of digital. As print ad revenues drop, some industry publications predict the demise of the newspaper, while others foresee a new age of newspaper journalism online.
The print death march started in February when the Capital Times of Madison, Wis. (17,000 circ.) announced that it would cease print operations and move to a Web-based format. The publisher continues with a weekly print newspaper, The Cap Times.
Soon after, the Daily Telegram of Superior, Wis. (5,500 circ.) followed suit, dropping its print edition to two times a week and moving daily updates to the Web site.
It didn’t stop there.
In October, the East Valley Tribune of Mesa, Ariz., announced its intent to cut back its daily schedule to four days a week and move to a daily online format, effective January 2009. The 100,000 circulation daily became the largest paper to take such a leap.
A few weeks later the renowned Boston-based Christian Science Monitor (56,000 circ.) joined the ranks of the exclusively digital and made media history as the first national daily to abandon print. In April 2009, the paper will move to a daily Web-based format and distribute a weekly print edition.
The latest in a series of print ditchers is the Daily Tribune of Royal Oaks, Mich., (14,000 circ.) which will cut its six day publication down to four next week, moving its daily coverage to the Web.
The decline in print advertising revenue is often cited as a driving force behind the constant changes in the newspaper world. According to Tech Crunch, the Newspaper Association of America found that in the second quarter of 2008, ad sales were down 16 percent to $8.8 billion. That’s a decline of nine consecutive quarters.
Like a bad portent, even online advertising isn’t safe in the current economy, taking a 2.4 percent dive from the previous year, Tech Crunch reported.
Is this the end, or a new beginning? Ken Doctor, a newspaper analyst at California-based Outsell, Inc., calls it “flipping the switch.”
“Clearly, many publications are becoming more digital and less print, but no U.S. newspaper company can attribute more than 15 percent of its total revenue to digital – and that’s the rub. They can’t flip the switch to digital completely, without becoming a much smaller enterprise. So they are trying to strike a balance, banishing as many legacy (production, printing, circulation) costs as quickly as possible while retaining as much of the higher-margin print ads they can. More digital, some print,” he said in an e-mail interview.
As 2009 looms ahead, Doctor said that newspapers will move forward by investing in staff and technology, creating an online community for surrounding cities and neighborhoods. In addition, newspaper companies will continue to move news coverage from “mass to niche” and find the most “advertiser-sought-after audiences.”
Minnpost, Pegasus and Crosscut, online community-oriented news sources, are becoming the model for local reporting, he said.
“Journalism isn’t dying, but being painfully reinvented. Comfortable middle-class paying jobs are going away, and it’s becoming more of a freelance/stringer business,” he said. “So overall it’s an ungainly transition in the digital age, where much is gained and much is lost.”
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