Journalism works, even as advertising falters
News industry executives across the nation are sitting in their barren suites, their trembling hands holding increasingly ugly circulation and staring with bleary eyes into what they see as a dark abyss.
I get it, but that’s nuts. The fact is, and I mean this with total and deep conviction, journalism has never attracted more consumers than it is doing right now. The issue isn’t whether the American public wants professional reporters (check out my previous blog on reporters) to prowl the innards of their representative democracy – they do.
Consider the latest “audience” report from Scarborough Research. In the top 81 markets in the country, Scarborough has calculated total “reach” of news outlets. In Rochester, N.Y., The Democrat and Chronicle reaches 80 percent of the adults in its self-defined market when print circulation and online readership is calculated together. Any longtime circulator will tell you that’s an astounding figure.
Most newspapers (and a growing number of television stations) can justifiably claim that they have successfully transitioned much of their traditional reading marketshare to a combination of print and electronic consumers. So what’s the problem, you may ask. What is all the throat-slashing about?
The bottomline: The bottomline. An Internet viewer in today’s advertising world is worth about 10 percent of what a print reader is. In other words, if advertising execs can turn a set of print eyeballs into $1 of revenue, they can get only 10 cents for a set of Web eyeballs.
Why? That is the core question, and the answer lies deep in the executive boardrooms of Gannett, Scripps and other media conglomerates. My theory is that advertising sales reps and their managers spent most of the last 15 years resisting changes to a new business model. Newspaper advertising (and to some degree local television advertising) has been an easy sell since the 1960s, when most American towns saw the collapse of competition.
When advertisers began demanding accountability (called return on investment, or ROI, in the biz), news advertising execs were left flat-footed. Pay us, they said, because you have always paid us. The advertisers, many of whom felt they had been repeatedly assaulted by arrogant local monopolies, chortled and said, “Hell no.”
Much more to come on this topic.