State of the News 2011

The state of the U.S. news media improved in 2010, at least in comparison with a dismal 2009. Newspapers were the only major media sector to see continued ad revenue declines, down 6.4%. But as online news consumption continues to grow—it surpassed print newspapers in ad revenue and audience for the first time in 2010—a more fundamental challenge to journalism also became clearer. The news industry in the digital realm is no longer in control of its own destiny, according to the State of the News Media report from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Online, news organizations increasingly depend on independent networks to sell their ads, on aggregators and social networks to deliver a substantial portion of their audience, and now, as news consumption becomes more mobile, on device makers (such as Apple) and software developers (Google) to distribute their content. And the new players take a share of the revenue and in many cases, also control the audience data.

“In a world where consumers decide what news they want and how they want to get it, the future belongs to those who understand the audience best, and who can leverage that knowledge with advertisers,” said PEJ Director Tom Rosenstiel. “Increasingly that knowledge exists outside of news companies.”

These are some of the conclusions in the eighth annual State of the News Media report, which takes a comprehensive look at the health and status of the American news media. This year’s study includes detailed looks at the eight major sectors of media. The special reports this year include a survey about the role of mobile technology in news consumption and the willingness of people to pay for their local newspaper online, a look at emerging economic models in community news and a study of how the U.S. newspaper business is faring compared with other nations.

The Who Owns the News Media database allows users to compare companies by various indicators, explore each media sector and read profiles of individual companies.  And in the Year in the News Interactive, users can explore PEJ’s comprehensive content analysis of media performance based on 52,613 stories from 2010.

Among the study’s key findings:

Mobile has already become an important factor in news. Nearly half of all Americans (47%) now get some form of local news on a mobile device, according to a new survey in this year’s report, produced by PEJ with Pew Internet and American Life Project in partnership with the Knight Foundation. As of January 2011, 7% of Americans reported owning some kind of electronic tablet, nearly double the number four months earlier. But the movement to mobile doesn’t guarantee a revenue source. To date, even among early adaptors, only 10% of those who have downloaded local news apps paid for them.

Online outpaces newspapers. Fully 46% of people now say they get news online at least three times a week, surpassing newspapers (40%) for the first time. Only local TV news is a more popular platform in America now (50%).  In another milestone, more money was spent on online advertising than on newspaper advertising in 2010: Online advertising overall grew 13.9% to $25.8 billion in 2010, according to data from eMarketer. While eMarketer does not offer a print ad revenue figure, we estimate the newspaper took in $22.8 billion in print ad revenue in 2010. (We estimate online ad revenue at newspapers to be about $3 billion.)

Online news hires may have matched newspaper cuts for the first time. Large national online-only news operations began to get into the creation of original reporting in a significant way in 2010. AOL hired nearly 1,000 employees, over half of whom went to the new local news venture Patch.com. Bloomberg Government expects to number 150 journalists and analysts by the end of 2011, doubling Bloomberg’s Washington bureau and Yahoo added several dozen reporters across news, sports and finance. These hiring increases appeared to have compensated for the 1,000 to 1,500 job losses the study estimates the newspaper industry suffered in 2010.

More grim news for newspapers. The newspaper sector endured another year of revenue and audience declines. Advertising revenues fell by roughly 6.4% in 2010 from the year before. Weekday circulation fell 5% and Sunday fell 4.5%. Seven of the top 25 newspapers in the United States are now owned by hedge funds, which had virtually no role in the industry a few years ago. Many of these new owners are turning to other  outsiders to turn the business around. One potential silver lining is the finding that 23% of Americans said they would pay $5 a month for an online version of their local paper if the print version were to perish.

Every media sector is losing audience now except online. For the first time in at least a dozen years, the median audience declined at all three cable news channels. CNN suffered most with median prime-time viewership, falling 37% in 2010; Fox lost 11%, and MSNBC 5%. In aggregate, the median viewership fell 13.7% across the entire day in 2010. Prime-time median viewership fell even more, 16% to an average of 3.2 million, according to PEJ’s original analysis of Nielsen Market Research data. Daytime fell 12%.

Local TV wins 2010 revenue race. Among traditional media, local TV may have had the best year financially. Revenue rose 17%, exceeding projections, thanks in part to a 77% increase in auto advertising and a record $2.2 billion in political advertising for the midterm elections.  And, to boost audience, local TV has added newscasts at 4:30 AM in 69 cities; more than double the startups in that time slot a year ago. Nonetheless, when adjusted for inflation, average station revenue has still dropped by almost half in the past nine years.

AM FM radio listening may be on the brink of a major change—and decline. Radio has remained among the most stable media platforms, largely because AM and FM remained the primary listening format in automobiles. That may be about to change. Toyota is about to put online radio in all its models and Pandora has made an agreement with Pioneer that would include its online radio service in the cars of at least six additional auto manufacturers by the end of 2011. Meanwhile, Audio’s foray into HD radio seems to be failing. Only 31% of Americans have even heard of it and the number of stations converting to HD dropped substantially in 2010.

Auto industry bailout added to media’s modest recovery. One overlooked dimension in the year past: a key source of renewed news revenue in 2010 was the recovering auto industry, thanks in part to the federal bailout for Detroit. In 2010, auto advertising jumped 77% in local television, 22% in radio and 17% in magazines. The other benefactor of the news industry, say experts, was the U.S. Supreme Court: Its Citizens United decision allowing corporations and union to buy political ads for candidates helped boost political advertising spent on local television to an estimated $2.2 billion, a new high for a midterm campaign year.

The report is the work of the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, a nonpolitical, nonpartisan research institute. The study is funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and was produced with the help of a number of collaborators, including Rick Edmonds of the Poynter Institute, Deborah Potter of Newslab and a host of industry readers.

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