The State of Newspapers: What Marketers Need to Know in 2014
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This post is an excerpt from Vocus’ State of the Media Report 2014.
Similar to years past, the newspaper industry continued to change and innovate with the demands of an increasingly digital audience. But it was also a year for goodbyes, most noticeably when the Grahams sold the Washington Post to Amazon co-founder Jeff Bezos.
The industry mourned the Chicago Sun-Times’ decision to cut its entire photography department, although a small number were bought back on. There have been closures as well, but not quite as many as we saw in 2012. Compared to last year’s 152 newspaper closures, we found 114 folded this year. Fifty-nine closures were weekly. Twenty were online.
Six papers that folded were dailies, including the Nashville City Paper and The Californian. Meanwhile, Ohio’s Journal News and Middletown Journal merged to become the Journal-News. From the weeklies that closed, 11 were from the Daily Voice newspaper group in Massachusetts.
It was a bad year for the AOL-owned Patch, which dominated headlines when a majority of the 900-plus sites were gutted of their staffs and left to exist as user-sourced shells. Patch.com’s future is even more uncertain since AOL announced it was giving majority ownership of Patch to Hale Global, a New York investment firm. Most recently, Hale Global instituted hundreds of layoffs, with reports noting fewer than 100 employees still work at Patch. The sites will reportedly feature less original content and will aggregate from other news sites.
Instead of seeing a slew of launches by Patch.com as there were in previous years, five sites closed while the Mt. Airy Patch and Chestnut Hill Patch in Pennsylvania merged, as did the South Gate and Lynwood Latino Patches in California. Out of 20 newspaper launches, three were Patch.com sites. The one bright spot for Patch is that traffic has continued to grow and surpassed 16 million unique visitors in November.
This past year’s launches were much more modest compared to the previous year’s 90. Several of the 20 launches in 2013 came from parent outlets. TP Street was the Times-Picayune’s attempt at appeasing readers who still felt slighted by Advance Newspaper’s decision to cut the New Orleans daily’s publication frequency down to three days a week.
The Chicago Tribune launched its online newspaper, Blue Sky Innovation, which targets entrepreneurs in Chicago, while the Orange County Register, which bulked up staff over the past two years, launched the Long Beach Register. In 2014, the newspaper company will also launch the daily Los Angeles Register.
The Value of Paywalls:
For several years now, paywalls have been a dominant theme in the newspaper industry as papers big and small alike decided to try out subscriptions services. The Washington Post, which claimed to be a staunch opponent, erected one this past year.
Digital First Media’s John Paton, also a critic, announced they would put the company’s papers behind a paywall as well. The Pioneer Press was the first to transition last year, and the rest of the 75 dailies were slated to go up in January 2014. Paton, however, has noted that he doesn’t believe paywalls are a long-term strategy.
Behind the Lens:
In mid-2013, The Chicago Sun-Times dismissed its entire photography staff in favor of freelancers and staff reporters trained on iPhone camera basics. Although they hired four back (with the requirement they learn video), it’s a disturbing trend that continued in Georgia when Southern Community Newspapers eliminated its photography department, as did Gatehouse Media’s Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y. The moves illustrate the growing dependency on mobile devices, as well as a need for cost-cutting measures.
“I think some newspapers believe they can get their art from any wire service and in some instances they can, when it comes to national or regional news,” Coates said. “However, the people in the business call it ‘art’ for a reason. Photographers truly are artists, and yes, their photos are worth a thousand words. Newspapers are selling themselves short if they think they can do without solid, if not stellar, photography.”
Image: Kat Northern Lights Man (Creative Commons)
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