Online Access

Internet Gaining on TV and Newspapers?

Well, yes…and not necessarily. The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press has another survey, out this week, that’s informative, if you don’t misinterpret the findings. The clearest finding is that the Internet is becoming more of the medium for news for many folks than television. It certainly hasn’t overtaken it among all groups, though it has among people 19-29 years old. And even that conclusion is somewhat suspect. After all, you can watch a TV program online. Who gets the credit as the source—TV or “the internet”?

This fuzzy conclusion gets more obscured when you read about the internet’s supremacy over newspapers, which applies to the overall population, though not among the 50+ set. After all, whereas most folks don’t go to the internet to watch TV, I’ll bet a sizable portion of those who look for news online indeed go to newspapers sites. Which makes the conclusions here a little misleading.

[M]ore people continue to cite the internet than newspapers as their main source of news, reflecting both the growth of the internet, and the gradual decline in newspaper readership (from 34% in 2007 to 31% now).

…The internet also has grown as a news source for people ages 50 to 64; currently 34% say the internet is their main source of national and international news, nearly equal to the number who cite newspapers (38%), though still far below television (71%). There has been relatively little change in the how people age 65 and older get their news. The internet has risen to 14% from 5% in 2007, but is still far behind newspapers (47%) and television (79%) as a main source.

I wish the good folks at the Pew center (and I love their work) would have worded it differently.  But reading further, there are nuggets that should influence how political questions are debated.

College graduates are about as likely to get most of their national and international news from the internet (51%) as television (54%). Those with some college are just as likely as college grads to cite the internet as their main source (51%), while 63% cite television. By contrast, just 29% of those with no more than a high school education cite the internet while more than twice as many (75%) cite television.

For political operatives that may mean deploying different spokespeople for different media. For example, if it’s the lower middle class you want to target, send those folks who can sound as if they are one of them. I don’t mean that condescendingly. Joe Biden may make a good source on TV news because he has a working class persona, whereas John Kerry may not.

There is some unabashed good news in the survey results.

Reflecting the slow decline in the proportion of people getting most of their national and international news from television, the numbers specifically citing cable news outlets or broadcast networks as their main news source has fallen. When asked where on television they get most of their news, 36% name a cable network such as CNN, the Fox News Channel or MSNBC; 22% name ABC News, CBS News or NBC News; and 16% say they get most of their national and international news from local news programming.

TV is constrained by its format. Rarely are issues covered in-depth and without prejudice or bias. If more people read the news online, they would be caught up in the world of hyperlinks, taking them to new sources that allow them to gain more knowledge and hopefully a broader range of viewpoints, though that’s not guaranteed.

But here’s the best news. The percentage of people who say they get their news from radio has remained constant over the past 20 years. Alas, they all aren’t listening to NPR; many are Limbaugh ditto-heads. According to Carroll Doherty of the Pew Center, NPR’s audience mirrors the general demographics of the population, so both young and old are listening. Why has radio remained constant? Because traffic hasn’t improved most places. Radio listeners tend to be in their cars at the time.

News You Can Refuse

It still doesn’t look like internet users are willing to pay for new content sites, at least according to the headline on this S.F. Chronicle story.  But dig deeper and there appears some hope for rags considering charging for content.

The New York Times and other news outlets have said they will start charging for online access to news stories. But Nielsen said only 34 percent of newspaper readers and 39 percent of magazine readers would consider paying for online content, and that percentage drops to 31 percent for users of online-only news sites.

If about a third of your online readers are willing to pay something, even if only pennies per story, you would think newspapers could make the model work.

Newspapers’ Problem: A 30-Something Nurse

An open letter to The Washington Post:

I met the problem newspapers like The Washington Post face.  She is a 30-ish admissions nurse at Inova Hospital.

I was sitting in her office clutching The Post and the Wall Street Journal, my hands gray with newsprint.  She noticed and volunteered, “I stopped my subscription recently because the paper was all yesterday’s news.”  She confirmed to me that she gets her news online.

The most obvious way to profit from readers like her is to give her information she can’t readily get elsewhere or charge for online content.  Maybe you put it in newsprint before going online with it, if you think newsprint is your future. 

I suggest you might save both your newsprint and online real estate for stories that readers like her care about.  Dan Balz’s article about a “pep rally”  is a case in point.  I understand that The Post’s reputation has been built on its reporting of politics, but that’s no longer helpful for two reasons.

One, Politico, Huffington Post, blogs, etc. give us more and faster. 

Two, politics has become so predictable and offensive.  Writing an article that’s nothing more than dueling talking points probably holds little interest for most of your readers.  Exactly how many of them care to hear the partisan tit-for-tat about what might happen a year from now?  And even “Republicans acknowledge that events could change the political landscape before next November.”  In March 2007, a year before Obama’s breakthrough victories in the primaries, who would have bet on his being president?  Still, let’s assume such navel gazing matters to political insiders.  Count them all.  I’m sure there are thousands.  Are there enough to save The Post

Now consider Shear and Eggen’s story this morning.  There is no news there except the coordinated effort by healthcare opponents to tie the recent mammogram study to “healthcare rationing.”  And The Post dutifully obliged to help that effort with front page placement.  The lede has no news hook:  “opponents stepped up efforts to define the legislation as big-government ambition run amok that will interfere with intimate medical decisions and threaten the pocketbooks of average taxpayers.”  Is that news?  Increased taxes had never been mentioned before yesterday?  “Stepped up efforts”?  I was unaware opponents were holding their powder before yesterday.  The story is “fair and balanced,” if that’s your criteria for good journalism.  But is this story of any value to my admissions nurse?  It certainly helped “radio show host Rush Limbaugh and Fox News host Glenn Beck,” who again seem to act as The Post’s assignment editors.

I might argue with at least one point in the article:  “Obama administration officials [say the] U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which issued the [mammogram] guidelines, has no power to affect coverage decisions by insurance companies.”  In fact, insurance companies could use the results of the task force as a rationale to cut coverage for mammograms for women under 50.

But my complaint is not about any partisan slant or arguable point.  Nor is it with any of these reporters.  My problem is their talents are going to waste because of bad decisions about what content readers want.  That ultimately rests with Mr. Brauchli.  Maybe he needs a push from the national editors. 

Maybe readers want more critical analysis of the big issues of our day, which I seem to get more of in Post columns than I do in daily stories.  Or maybe it’s a curriculum change being considered by the local school board.  I don’t know, but surely it isn’t what The Post has done for decades.  That’s over.  You’ve lost that war, at least for your newsprint edition.  And I would argue that getting the story about the Republican governors’ conference on your web site faster isn’t the answer, either.

In Print, Not Online

Well, here’s a novel way of trying to protect newsprint.  The editor of the Tallahassee (Fla.) Democrat has announced that from now on each Sunday he will publish a major story that will appear only in print.

Sunday’s are special days for readers of traditional print editions of newspapers. More people read the newspaper that day. There are more features and advertisements. More young adult readers pick up a copy of the Sunday paper than any other day of the week, based on national statistics.

We want to keep Sundays special for our print-edition readers, who pay extra for the newspaper and deserve more.

Each week, we’re going to develop a special report aimed at them, something that moves beyond the news to provide greater depth and analysis of a story, and publish it exclusively in print.

The story will not appear on its web site, he says.  Is that a good move?  Subscribers who may be out of town and want to catch on the hometown news might not think so.  Nor will it do much to advance a story that deserves “greater depth and analysis.”  Still, he has one good point.

Most digital readers simply won’t read the long narrative Sunday story; we know that these stories, while in high demand in print, don’t generate huge traffic online, which has evolved into a breaking-news medium and a place for readers to discuss the news. We’ll use online to provide multimedia and long documents that don’t work in print.

I certainly don’t like reading long stories online.  Interesting concept.

Would You Pay for Online Access to Newspapers?

After Rupert Murdoch said a couple of months ago that the Wall St. Journal is considering charging again for access to its web site, the industry has been discussing his wisdom or lack of it.  Surely, the newspaper industry made a mistake in giving content away for free after the Internet became a mass market reality.  But that’s not to say that people would be forking over $5-10 month for subscriptions to myriad publications.  In fact, a decision to do so might have had consequences on the reality of today’s Internet that we can’t comprehend.  But it’s all water under the bridge.  It’s free and except for Murdoch and Steven Brill of Journalism Online, few executives are talking about it to their subscribers.  But they’re considering it.

The question is “How would you charge, and would that make up for loss online ad revenue?”

Alan Mutter cites research that suggests it’s not much.

Asked what they would spend for a monthly subscription to the newspaper’s site, the respondents willing to pay for news said that they would cough up an average of $4.64. But, Harmon noted, 211 respondents, or fully 47% of the group, said they would not pay at all.

If half the people won’t pay at all, is an online subscription fee plausible?  Maybe.

Right now I haven’t heard much about the details of a business model for online content.  And there’s where the devil resides. 

  • Would you give away online access for free to newsprint subscribers? 
  • Could there be co-ops formed to sell packages of content, i.e., get the Wash. Post, NY Times, Wall St. Journal, USA Today, LA Times & Chicago Trib all for one price. 
  • Could newspapers form partnerships with visual organizations to package say CNN with the Times, the Post with ABC, etc.?
  • Could they offer substantial discounts or even free access in return for participation in online marketing surveys?
  • Could the purchase of an item from an online advertiser on the site, return a 3-month free subscription to the site?
  • Could bloggers get discounts or free access in return for better acknowledgement of linked sources.  (It’s a concern of some organizations that bloggers just link to a story without also writing something like “according to the Wall St. Journal,” as is the practice among traditional news organizations.  Monitoring this would be a challenge.)
  • Could associations negotiate discounts for access to news sites.  I’m not sure there is a bloggers association, but if there were, they might get a deal for their members.

But the bigger question is if news organizations decided it was worth trying and ultimately decided it was financially worth it, what would happen to the political blogosphere?