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State of the Media: Q2 2011

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For the media, coming to the end of the second quarter feels less like passing a small milestone and more like reaching Mount Everest. For many, the media recession is still a recent memory. The massive layoffs continue in print newspapers, but innovation is the new word of the day breathing success and life into certain media outlets. With the increased demand for journalists’ presence in social media, traditions like getting more than one source for attribution and copy editing are sacrificed for time spent monitoring Facebook.

With news continuing to break on Twitter first, reporters scramble to keep a watchful eye for developments while performing multiple duties, covering for colleagues who have been laid off. As we take a step back to assess their progress however, we’ll see that for many of them, the risk and stamina has proven well worth the effort.

In this report, unlike other reports by media-monitoring organizations, we only examine media outlets that have pitchable editorial content and we’ve only measured contacts gaining and losing jobs in the editorial newsrooms of North American media outlets. These numbers come from the Vocus database as compiled by our media research teams and reflect a more specialized look at the state of the media for the second quarter of 2011.

Newspapers

Before getting too excited that 91 newspaper outlets launched in the second quarter, understand that 43 of those were Aol’s Patch websites and 33 were Main Street Connect hyperlocal sites. Only two were daily print newspapers. At the end of 2010, there was a huge trend toward launching weekly newspapers.  If you compare Q2 2011 with Q2 2010, you’ll notice more weekly launches this year even though there were also more weeklies folding. This frequency makes up the largest percentage of all newspapers in North America.

One shrinking area continues to be newspaper bureaus. Four major bureaus closed this quarter, the most significant of which was the Des Moines Register’s Washington, D.C. bureau. This means a top tier newspaper has no office in the nation’s capital. This wasn’t the only loss suffered by a Gannett newspaper. The company laid off more than 700 people in June. While this might only reflect 2 percent of their workforce so far, the bulk of the cuts came from content-creation positions after cost-cutting measures were implemented.

How many content creators were affected by said measures?  More than 2,200 newspaper contacts left their post this past quarter. That is less than the 2,500 or more who departed during the same quarter last year. During this year’s second quarter, more than 330 left their news role for a non-editorial role, either at the newspaper or another company and only 132 contacts were added to newspaper outlets. Last year’s Q2 saw only 119 contacts make that change. Contacts who remained took on additional roles and are now reporters and editors at the same paper.

In addition to these tasks, almost all of the top-tier newspapers are utilizing their Twitter accounts and Facebook pages. As newspapers look to engage their readers more and more, they’re taking advantage of ways to gain a loyal following, perhaps in the hopes that their newspaper, rather than a local website or blog, will be top-of-mind the next time a story breaks. These social media platforms are happy to have the newspaper’s participation as both Twitter and Facebook launched dedicated “newsroom” sites for them this past quarter.

Magazines

Other than reports of a few controversial cover choices, print magazines have found ways to keep advertising dollars coming in and prevent top talent from heading out. Only 26 magazines folded in the second quarter of this year as compared to 41 folds in the same quarter last year. Only eight were trade rags, including Mediaweek, Brandweek, and Modern Plastics Worldwide. 944’s nine localized entertainment magazines swallowed up the bulk of the consumer titles going under. Berkshire Living and ReadyMade also shuttered recently.

Interestingly, magazine folds have been in sync with launches over the past few quarters. There were 27 print magazine launches this past quarter, but 26 closures leaves the medium with a net gain of one in Q2. Among these, 10 were national and 17 were regional or local. Popular topics this spring have been lifestyle, food, sports, and health, as we saw the launch of Plum Hamptons and Martha’s Vineyard Arts & Ideas. What we didn’t see was anything having to do with or coming out of the nation’s Southeastern region, or covering Midwest lifestyle. Nor did we see more news or shelter magazines born.

Compared to 2010, this year’s second quarter has proven to be kinder to magazine staff. About a thousand fewer editorial contacts left the industry this quarter than last year’s second quarter, reflected in the Vocus database. At the top-tier outlets, about 41 contacts were removed as compared to the 58 that were removed during the same quarter last year. What’s making them stay? It could be creativity and caution. Several magazines have strong enough of a brand identity that they are now leveraging their name in other areas such as product sales and a slew of new apps. Newsweek, Dwell and Slate all have new purchasable apps, while The Economist, The Week and Popular Science are allowing their apps to be downloaded for free. It’s great to see so much experimentation going on in the industry right now. Thinking beyond the printed page, the launch of 17 new online-only magazines and the leveraging of TV spots shows a keen survival instinct among magazine executives.

Television

Yes, an increase in syndicated content continues, but there are two new developments for the TV industry. One is the aggressive move to stream shows live on the Internet, while the other is a growth in news and talk programs for digital subchannels. During the Casey Anthony trial in Florida, for example, NBC-affiliate WESH Channel 2 News saw a viewer spike in their YouTube channel as they aired live streaming of the Casey Anthony trial in Florida, continuing the stream even as the TV channel switched to local news and scheduled programming.

Television is also leading the social media race as now all major markets have at least a Facebook page, Twitter handle or both for all their local networks. Giving their viewers a platform where they can have a voice is even more important now that most 30-minute newscasts spend less than a third of their time delivering local news. This schedule is the only format that the new crop of young, up-and-coming reporters has ever known. Worth noting is that the numbers of contacts leaving and arriving in the TV industry have remained stable for the third quarter in a row.

As less and less air time is spent on investigative stories, it will be interesting to see how the 24-hour news cycles handle the potential professional sports lockouts this fall. CBS, Fox and ESPN have the resources to fill their timeslots, but smaller outlets relying on local coverage of NBA and NFL teams might not be so lucky.

Radio

Internet radio is continuing to gain and retain listeners. Pandora is outpacing CBS Radio in both the number of requests for streams from their sites and total listening hours, according to Triton Digital. They might have some competition, however, as the Los Angeles Times is reporting that Spotify, a European digital music service with 10 million registered users, is coming to the U.S.

Technology is playing a large role in what people are listening to and how long they are listening. Radio audiences are increasing among all major demographic groups, as compared to Arbitron’s estimates from one year ago. More than 1.9 million persons age 12 and over joined the listening groups of American Urban Radio Networks this year, according to Arbitron’s Radar 109 Cume Audience estimates. One of the biggest reasons for this increase is the growth in the Hispanic population. Providing specialized content for such an audience is one of the major trends in media.

The more choices there are and the more interactive the platforms, the more broadcasters are able to cater to a demand for personalization. Listeners can now get more of what they like based on their own choices. For example, Clear Channel Radio has 850 stations, most of which can be heard on iHeartRadio via the Internet. This is an interesting development as Clear Channel is partnering with satellite radio on one end and possibly competing with it on another a local level. Again, radio, like television, has seen no major increase or decrease in the number of contacts or outlets coming or going this quarter.

In Conclusion

Now that the media has gotten through the second quarter, it still doesn’t look like there’s any evidence of a winning strategy for all traditional mediums. Many outlets are taking experimentation into their own hands, trying out new things and new ways of distributing their content. For some, like those in Internet radio, it’s working extremely well. For others, like TBD.com, which tried to put TV news resources onto the Web first, it’s not working out at all. With Newsweek’s heavily Photoshopped cover speculating Princess Diana at 50 and Rupert Murdoch shutting down the News of the World after a phone-tapping scandal, it seems no medium is free from controversy at the moment. This quarter also saw the federal decision to cut public funding to National Public Radio and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Looking ahead, we’re keeping an eye on the number of iPhone- and iPad-like devices as they provide a vehicle to supply individuals with all five forms of content (radio, television, social media, magazines, and newspapers) on demand). For a one-time fee of $2.99 listeners can get their favorite ESPN sports show, not to mention any Pandora music station for free. With audiences given more freedom to pick and choose content, the era of “mass” media may be reaching its end.

–Rebecca Bredholt

 

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