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State of the Media: Q3 2012

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In the third quarter of 2012, the news industry underwent the usual trends that have been taking place for the last several years. There were cuts, layoffs, merges and new innovations. Here’s a look at some of this past quarter’s events:

Newspapers:

For the last two quarters, news of changes at Advance Publications has often dominated headlines. The Q2 announcement that it would cut the Times-Picayune’s frequency down to three days a week and focus on digital created controversy among readers who are loyal to the print product. In Q2, that plan came to fruition when the paper officially ended its long run as a print daily. In 2013, the Syracuse Post-Standard in New York, and the Harrisburg Patriot-News in Pennsylvania will also drop frequency. But the Times-Picayune’s demise as a print daily was truly a historical moment for newspapers, and not in a good way, becoming the largest city in the country without a daily newspaper.

“This action is a watershed moment in the newspaper world. And at the same time it is not all that surprising,” said David Coates, managing editor of newspaper content at Vocus Media Research Group. “The continuous drop in circulation coupled with the steady rise in page views online makes this an easy financial decision for Advance Publications. The cost to print seven days a week is extremely high and it’s pretty obvious the juice wasn’t worth the squeeze. However, we have to ask if this is just the beginning. Advance also owns the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Oregonian and the Newark Star-Ledger, all of which have seen their circulations drop significantly in the last few years. It’s one thing to cut back printing daily editions in the smaller markets of New Orleans, northern Alabama, upstate New York and central Pennsylvania but it would be a huge move if it was done in major markets of Cleveland, Portland, [Ore.,] and the New York metropolitan area. We will just have to wait and see if this was a test balloon for something much bigger.”

Although it’s never a good thing when a newspaper folds, at only 14 closures in Q3, it would appear the industry is doing its best to remain steady. Newspapers that folded include the Polar Press Weekly, the Yakima Valley Business Journal and the Santa Barbara Daily Sound. Three were online Patch.com sites that were absorbed into other Patch sites. Meanwhile, five newspapers went online-only in Q3, including the Hudson Valley Business Journal, The Albany Journal, Primelife Circuit, the Keene Star and the Alvarado Star. There were plenty of launches at a total of 47, but all but one were Patch.com sites. The one and only print launch was the Baton Rouge Advocate’s New Orleans edition, which launched the day the Times-Picayune went to a three-day cycle. Recent reports say the Advocate received 10,000 new subscribers within just a few days.

Magazines:

Only 15 magazines folded in Q3, six of which were Weekly Reader editions that were absorbed by Scholastic News. Other magazines that closed included ArtSee Magazine, Smart Money: The Wall Street Journal Magazine of Personal Business and Bird Talk. Thirteen of the closures were consumer. Meanwhile, Barron’s West Coast bureau also closed.

Ten of the 23 new magazines to debut in Q3 were consumer publications, including DuJour, Story, Miabella and The Current. Elle Accessories, which went on hiatus in 2008, re-launched last month. Out of the total launches, nine were online-only and included 49ers Insider. Other trends included magazines like GQ and Maxim’s forays into augmented reality.

Television:

Sports news proved to be big in Q3, with 30 shows on high school, college and pro-football debuting. However, Vocus Media Research Group managing editor of television content Julie Holley noted this wasn’t a surprising trend given the start of football season.

Show testing also seemed to be a bit of a trend with ABC’s test run of “Afternoon America,” an extension of “Good Morning America.” “The show did fairly well in terms of ratings so many, including the company’s president, predict it will re-appear once the network decides on an appropriate timeslot,” said Holley. Meanwhile, Spanish-language network MundoFox, which launched in August, was given something of a test run as well when Nielsen didn’t begin measuring their ratings until Oct. 1. “So, they had some time to adjust and adapt before being officially judged in the ratings world. The network continues to extend its reach and hopes to air in 60 cities by the end of the year,” she said.

In past quarters we noticed a trend where stations moved weekday anchors to work Sunday through Thursday or Tuesday through Saturday in order to cover weekends with less weekend-only staff. That trend continues. For example, Rachel Dierkes of WTRF-TV produces both the weekday and weekend shows. And WALB-TV’s Robert Hydrick is a sports director who anchors the 5, 6 and 11 p.m. weekday programs, as well as the 11 p.m. Saturday show. “This is a cost saving measure, no doubt,” said Holley. “But, it makes sense given that anchors are among the highest paid employees in medium and large markets.”

Radio:

Although the number of people getting news from radio is dropping, it’s still ahead of newspapers, noted Kyle Johnson, managing editor of radio content at Vocus Media Research Group. Citing a study from the Pew Research Center, he noted 33 percent of people are getting their news from radio, while only 24 percent are reportedly getting their news from newspapers.

According to Arbitron, despite a drop in radio news consumption, people are actually tuning in more than ever, Johnson said. “The group’s September 2012 Radar National Listening Report found that radio’s audience increased slightly over last year by almost 250,000 people [aged 12 and older], which represents about 93 percent of the population. The report also found that radio’s diverse listenership increased, with the Hispanic audience increasing by nearly two million over the previous year, and African-American listeners increasing by nearly half a million,” he said.

In a study released by Alan Burns and Associates and Triton Digital, Burns notes radio will remain strong in the short term, but will ultimately struggle in this economy. He suggested putting young people on the air talking about younger issues, noted Johnson. Meanwhile, Internet radio is continuing to rise in popularity, especially sites like Pandora and Spotify. According to Johnson, listener hours increased 67 percent for Pandora in September compared to the same time last year. “But its shares dropped 18 percent overnight when it was reported that Apple is creating a service very similar to Pandora,” he said. Helping digital music providers out is a bill being designed by Congress to drop royalties on music Internet radio is paying for to the same level as other digital providers.

Meanwhile, Sirius XM Radio apparently has installed 50 million satellite radios in cars, noted Johnson. “This year, Sirius XM radios will be factory installed in close to 70 percent of all new cars sold in the U.S.” And we can’t forget Sport Talk, which marked its 25th anniversary this year of being on the radio full-time and is the fastest growing format in the country.

Blogs:

The types and number of blogs that launch in a given period are often an indicator for what’s currently trendy. Vocus Media researchers added over 100 blogs this quarter, with parenting coming in first as the most popular topic, followed by fashion and then food and wine.

Conclusion:

Although there’s always some hard knocks to be seen, traditional media continues to evolve in conjunction with new media, making the landscape truly dynamic.

–Katrina M. Mendolera

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