Pew: People Won’t Miss Newspapers

The Pew Center for People & the Press just published results of a survey (conducted earlier this month) in which they asked people where they got their news and what they thought about the possibility of newspapers folding. Here are some of the findings:

General audience:

  • 43% of Americans say that losing their local newspaper would hurt civic life in their community “a lot.”
  • 33% say they would personally miss reading the local news

Sources of local news:

  • 68% say they regularly get local news from television reports or television station websites
  • 48% say they regularly get news from local newspapers in print or online
  • 34% say they get local news regularly from radio
  • 31% say they get their local news, more generally, from the internet

For those who get their news from newspapers:

  • 56% say that if the local newspaper they read most often no longer published — either in print or online — it would hurt the civic life of the community a lot
  • 55% says they would personally miss reading the paper a lot if it were no longer available.

Those who think that newspaper loss would hurt community/civic life “a lot”:

  • 30% say people rely on the paper to know what is going on in their community
  • 18% say that people in their area rely on or read the paper for general news
  • 12% note that their community has only one newspaper
  • 10% point to their own familiarity or enjoyment of the paper
  • 6% say the paper provides better or more in- depth coverage than does television news
  • 6% worry that jobs would be lost if the paper closed

Those who think loss wouldn’t make much difference:

  • 29% say there are other ways to get news, including television, radio news and the Internet
  • 20% say newspaper quality is poor; 5% say it is biased
  • 10% say they don’t read the paper and almost as many (9%) say they don’t think other people read it either.

Some of the charts (all Pew):

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A significant minority of respondents said that the loss of newspapers would be a negative (43%). However, the problems that newspapers are facing are the following:

  • People get their news from other/multiple sources
  • There’s a sense that newspapers don’t offer anything unique (my interpretation)
  • Young people don’t read newspapers
  • Another interesting comment from those who wouldn’t miss newspapers is the critique of their quality. This problem is being exacerbated by editorial cuts, which are rampant

The bottom line here is that much of the audience has “moved on” and do not see their lives being affected by the loss of newspapers. They’re obviously not considering the ways in which newspapers feed other news media they may be relying on, such as TV and the Internet.

The lack of public concern, for the most part, about the demise of print newspapers means that there will be many more failures and closings. That would be less likely if the public were “up in arms” about the issue. Publishers, politicians and the public would be seeking to find solutions. But there’s little or no public pressure to do so. So publishers will simply sell or shutter their money losing publications.

Newspaper publishers seem to be missing the point about quality (and brand). If they had developed better publications and invested in better writing and reporting they might find that they would have differentiated offerings rather than “just another news source.” It was pure arrogance to think however — that this started happening years ago — that they could keep cutting and relying on wire services or perfunctory reporting and people would continue to buy and read the paper.

One of the comments to an earlier post on newspapers argues that the culture is moving too fast and that print is out of step with the speed at which things operate today. There’s truth there, but if the newspapers had made themselves more valuable people might be more loyal.

Maybe some people would argue that the march of technology would have made the demise of print inevitable. Again I think there’s some truth in that argument but I don’t entirely buy it.

I fear that those papers now starting to contemplate charging for their content online are simply going to accelerate the loss of their audiences. Absent the entire industry doing this simultaneously, one cannot turn back the clock. It’s only new form factors and delivery platforms (mobile, eBook readers, etc.) that would enable this in my view.

What do others think?

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Related: Outside.in founder Steven Johson talks about the bright future of news at SXSW. Here are the Twitter posts in reaction to Johnson’s remarks.

4 Responses to “Pew: People Won’t Miss Newspapers”

  1. David Mihm Says:

    Greg, being in the 18-39 demo, I think you nailed all four of these:

    – People get their news from other/multiple sources
    – There’s a sense that newspapers don’t offer anything unique (my interpretation)
    – Young people don’t read newspapers
    – Another interesting comment from those who wouldn’t miss newspapers is the critique of their quality.

    I lived in small towns up until I was 22 (the same town until I was 18). The quality of the features in each was pretty poor. I read the paper every morning in high school, but after skimming the local headlines, flipped right to the box scores of the sports section. That was literally my experience with local news.

    When I moved to San Francisco, I realized that the area was too large for a “local” paper to cover it all, so I went to alternatives like the EB Express to keep up with what was going on in my closer community. Plus the writing at the Chronicle didn’t hold a candle to either the Chicago Tribune or the NY Times, which were the two large-scale papers I’d had experience reading.

    Now that I am in Portland, it’s much of the same. There’s a lot going on in other parts of Portland that I simply don’t care about. So I read Willamette Week if I’m looking for something to do on the weekends. I read OregonLive.com (the Oregonian’s online version) about once or twice a week, usually just to scan headlines or see what the Blazer Beat is. On occasion I’ll be interested to know what our mayor’s up to.

    I truly think that the closure of newspapers will lead to a healthier journalistic ecosystem in the long run. There are tons of great local bloggers and writers out there who do a better and more efficient job of covering local stories than a bureaucratic top-down type of organization with too much overhead.

    Layer in a good Twitter feed of local news headlines & you’ve got the makings of something that is richer and far more timely than anything a print paper can provide. Get it on Kindle 4 (or something similar that you linked to a couple weeks ago) and you’ve got a more environmentally friendly and up-to-the-minute solution.

  2. Greg Sterling Says:

    It all seems inevitable now, David. So I hope you’re right.

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