Michael Massing, in the The New York Review of Books, has a numbers-packed eval of the newsprint biz, “A New Horizon for the News.” Among the insights:
Last year, circulation dropped on average by 4.6 percent.… Yet amid all this gloom, statistics from the Internet suggest that interest in news has rarely been greater. According to one survey, Internet users in 2008 spent fifty-three minutes a week reading newspapers online, up from forty-one minutes in 2007. And the traffic at the top fifty news Web sites increased by 27 percent. While this growth cut across all age groups, the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism found, “it was fueled in particular by young people.”…
According to one study, of all the time readers spend with a newspaper, 96 percent of it is spent on print editions and barely more than 3 percent on the Web. Similarly, of the $38.5 billion spent on newspaper ads in 2008, just $3 billion was spent on the Web. With numbers like these, print is not going away anytime soon.…
How could the financial fortunes of a $50 billion–plus industry decline so swiftly while its product remains so prized? The most immediate explanation is the collapse of what has long been the industry’s economic base: advertising. The traditional three staples of newspaper advertising—automotive, employment, and real estate—have all drastically declined, thanks to Craigslist, eBay, the travails of Detroit, and the consolidation of department stores (resulting in fewer retail ad pages). Meanwhile, the steady expansion of space on the Internet has caused online ad rates to crash, and these are not expected to recover even when the economy as a whole does.
The fall-off in ad revenues has been compounded by another phenomenon that newspaper executives would rather not discuss: their own greed. The relentless stress placed on acquisition and consolidation, which dominated the industry for decades, helped drain money out of newsrooms and into the pockets of shareholders. It also shifted the locus of decision-making from locally based citizens to distant corporate boards. Most harmful of all, efforts to build large media conglomerates have saddled newspaper companies with astounding levels of debt, much of it taken on to buy other newspaper companies.
And, at the end, a salute to NPR:
To date, the funding of nonprofit journalism has been led by the Knight Foundation, with added support from Carnegie, Ford, MacArthur, and George Soros’s Open Society Institute.… When it comes to cultivating such sources, everyone looks to one organization for guidance: NPR. At a time when not only newspapers but also commercial broadcasters are struggling, NPR has thrived.