Newspapers perform an important role in a democratic society. However, they serve two unlikely and different masters: advertisers and audiences. In a world of declining circulation revenue and uncertain digital business models, advertisers pay the bills.
It can be a tricky balance, but to serve advertisers we need to satisfy audiences.
Newspapers were created to provide the general public with the news. Historically, if you wanted the news the only place you could get it was to read a newspaper. The newspaper publisher performed the role of finding out and deciding what the general public needed to know, put it together nicely, and served it up daily, sometimes twice daily, to a waiting public.
That was then, this is now; “always-on” consumers can easily access news and information whenever and wherever they want. The public is not “waiting.” Despite ubiquitous options for news, nearly eight in 10 Canadians choose to get their news from a newspaper every week. Can the oldest medium become today’s favourite media brands?
Last month at the INMA World Congress, we heard a number of views and ideas about how newspaper organisations are carving out a future that focuses on delivering news throughout the day, across various media channels. Although there is no clear path other than being a part of the dialogue on ideas and being ready to try and fail, a path will emerge.
Many ideas have been tried and tested in the last decade, and we are starting to see many news organisations looking in the same direction. For example, the development of paid and bundled models is becoming more common and accepted.
There was a great deal of discussion about branding, psychology, technology, and the use and integration of different media channels to reach the general public. Branding stood out as an area of great opportunity. Newspapers currently spend, on average, less than 1% of sales on advertising — less than one-third of what most package goods companies spend.
However, the focus was less on what advertisers want and more on gaining readers and how to engage them in the “news process.”
The introduction and integration of the Internet into the silo media organisations of the previous century are dissolving the lines between media defined by their distribution method; they are driving media organisations to be platform-agnostic and more like each other than ever before. In Canada, more than seven in 10 adults read a print product each week. Weekly readership at Web sites has grown to 33% of adults. However, the majority of Canadians still read only a printed newspaper (58%). And 78% of Web site readers read a printed newspaper each week.
What do newspapers need to do to satisfy audiences? At the most basic level the answer to that question will never change: provide relevant, reliable content in a manner suited to the way in which communication is taking place. Content is king, and context is queen. However, citizens today also want to be a part of the process and newspapers are capitalising on their readers’ need and desire to be involved.
Comments, blogs, and discussions on social media sites provide insight into various points of view and to how the story evolves. Citizen journalism involves readers offering up aspects of the news to media organisations: leads, pictures, immediate on-the-ground information, and commentary. Technology allows for, and encourages, a new form of journalism that involves communities; it permits newspapers to capitalise and integrate a variety of styles of communication.
Ten years ago, video was for broadcasters. Today, newspapers not only include video stories on their Web sites, but many have created studios with qualified staff to ensure that those videos are of a quality generated by TV news organisations.
Newspaper organisations are creating media and revenue models that capitalise on their strengths and maintain their position of credible, reliable sources of news for their readers, viewers, and listeners. Perhaps hand-wringing should be a thing of the past; newspapers are learning to employ the skills required to reach and communicate with large numbers of the general public. Maybe it is time to leave behind the name “newspaper.”
It may be easier to reimagine and promote the “newspaper” as a media brand by referring to it as the “newspub.” Let TV and radio carve out their future with entertainment as their primary content.
Advertisers are an integral part of the transition from “newspaper” to “newspub.” Many do not see newspapers as a brand. Are they stuck in the past, talking about the death of newspapers, when they really mean the decline of print on paper? Newspapers will have to lead the discussion about how they are moving beyond a silo medium. They will mould and build new business and research models that demonstrate to advertisers the size and value of their audiences. Beyond readership numbers, what can we tell them now that we may not have told them?
Print is not dead. Readers spend twice as long each week reading the printed product as they do on the Web site.
Tablet penetration continues to grow, and we are gaining more insight into how they are being used. Based on 2011 data (without the tablet question), we see that smartphone penetration grows and with it its use in accessing news. However, most people access newspaper Web sites through their computer.
Technology is driving a change in attitude at all media organisations to rethink “what they are.” Newspapers are not printed on paper editions that are distributed once a day; they are a source for news, information, and often entertainment. The best newspapers attract and meet the needs of a large number of readers, viewers, and listeners, and that knowledge should have advertisers lining up at the door to invest in today’s “newspubs.” Time to get out the trumpets!