I asked my friend/colleague Dick Jones to do another guest blog. I value his decades of experience in radio, newspaper, higher ed and consulting.
The question: What is the role of newspapers today in relation to higher education marketing? How has that role changed over the past 25 years and what will it be five years from now?
I have a contrarian view about newspapers. I think they are vitally important now and in the future, although their role has changed from a quarter century ago and will change in the next five years.
Twenty-five years ago, obviously, a greater percentage of people—even young people—got their news from reading newspapers. Between 1970 and 2000, the number of daily newspapers in the country dropped from about 1,750 to 1,500. First television and now the Internet have supplanted newspapers as the primary sources of where Americans say they get their news.
Fewer and fewer people are picking up an actual newspaper from their front porch in the morning. A great many people, however, are still getting news from newspapers whether they know it or not. Some examples:
· Many of the TV stories you see on the news each night originated because the assignment editor read about them first in the newspaper. Newspapers remain agenda setters for TV and radio news. This is true at the national level too.
· The story you read on the TV station website may be a newspaper story. Many TV stations have official partnership arrangements with newspapers to share news.
· While newspaper circulation declines, online hits to the newspaper website increase. Between March and August 2007 The New York Times averaged 13,857,000 unique visitors to its website daily. The average visitor stayed 20 minutes and looked at 27 pages of content (Neilsen/Net Ratings). They may not be getting their fingers dirty but I call those people newspaper readers.
· When you read a wire story on Yahoo or Google, it may have originated with a newspaper. The AP often takes newspaper stories and re-writes them.
The problem that newspapers have is finding a way to get the Internet to turn a profit for them. If they cannot, newspapers will founder financially. If that happens the republic is in peril. There are simply no other organizations in our democratic society equipped for or interested in covering the news like newspapers do now. And our society needs more news coverage, not less. Blogs are not a substitute. There is very little original reporting in blogs. Most of it is opinion, speculation, prognostication, agenda-pushing, and recycling of news that first appeared in newspapers.
I think that newspapers in the future will be more accurately described as news gathering organizations. The newsprint edition will shrink and someday may disappear entirely (though not in the next five years). They will add video newscasts to their websites. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has just done so. But if newspapers cannot find ways to generate ad revenue, they will be in serious trouble. Monster.Com and CareerBuilder.Com and other Internet-based firms are taking serious chunks of the classified ad business.
But Americans are ingenious at finding ways to make money. There has to be some way to make money from covering the news. Since newspaper companies have the biggest stake in this, I’m betting that they will. If they don’t, they will go the way of the railroads. It was often said that The Pennsylvania Railroad thought it was in the railroad business but it was really in the transportation business. Newspapers are not in the newspaper business, they are in the news business and need to find a way to make the news business pay.