Accuracy in Media

A new report to be issued in January by the USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future predicts that most newspapers will be dead in five years.

The Center’s director, Jeffrey I. Cole, had this to say about the future of newspapers:

“Circulation of print newspapers continues to plummet, and we believe that the only print newspapers that will survive will be at the extremes of the medium – the largest and the smallest,” said Cole. It’s likely that only four major daily newspapers will continue in print form: The New York Times, USA Today, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal.  At the other extreme, local weekly newspapers may still survive.

“The impending death of the American print newspaper continues to raise many questions,” Cole said. “Will media organizations survive and thrive when they move exclusively to online availability?  How will the changing delivery of content affect the quality and depth of journalism?”

The challenge for print newspapers in the future isn’t only the Internet, which has attracted both readers and advertisers away from the printed page, but also from an aging demographic.

Newspapers tend to attract an older demographic audience, one that is used to and prefers reading a physical newspaper and tends not be be as web savvy as the younger generation.  However, as nature takes its course, that key audience continues to age and unfortunately die, taking away the readership that print newspapers have relied on for so long.

Annenberg has played it relatively safe with its picks of the papers that it expects to survive. All are very large and still well funded, though the Post, Times and USA Today have seen their profits tumble precipitously in the last few years and are still struggling to create a profitable digital strategy. The Journal, on the other hand, is better suited to weather the storm thanks to the very deep pockets of its owner, Rupert Murdoch, and the fact that most of its subscribers are businesses and businessmen who find the paper indispensable, giving it a buffer even during the recession.

I think that the five-year prediction is overly pessimistic given the current data available. But there is no doubt that in the future there will be fewer print newspapers as more people grow accustomed to receiving their news via the Internet. This will only be exacerbated as the growth in tablets and smartphones increases, enabling readers to view their news on the fly and lessening the need for a physical newspaper.

The future of the printed page is bleak, but I’ll give it ten years, not five.

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