Thursday, August 16, 2007

A declining audience

The Shorenstein Center at Harvard has published a study of news on the Internet, and the news isn't good for newspapers like the Enquirer. The study is here, and it's a PDF file. Here's the last two paragraphs of the executive summary:

Our evidence suggests that the Internet is redistributing the news audience in a way that is pressuring some traditional news organizations. Product substitution through the Web is particularly threatening to the print media, whose initial advantage as a “first mover” has all but disappeared. The Internet is also a larger threat to local news organizations than to those that are nationally known. Because the Web reduces the influence of geography on people’s choice of a news source, it inherently favors “brand names”—those relatively few news organizations that readily come to mind to Americans everywhere when they go to the Internet for news.

Although the sites of nontraditional news organizations are a threat to traditional news organizations, the latter have strengths they can leverage on the Web. Local news organizations are “brand names” within their communities, which can be used to their advantage. Their offline reach can also be used to drive traffic to their sites. Most important, they have a product—the news—that people want. Ironically, some news organizations do not feature the day’s news prominently on their websites, forgoing their natural advantage.
The review of newspaper web site traffic shows that overall, traffic growth is basically flatlining. The big "brand name" newspaper web sites like the Times, the Post and USA Today are gaining traffic. Traffic at sites of medium-sized newspapers is shrinking, however, and shrinking fast. The Enquirer was not included in the survey. Gaining traffic are search engine news sites (like Yahoo and Google), bloggers, "aggregators with attitude" and TV and radio sites.

So, newspapers are losing their grip.

The largest threat posed by the Internet to traditional news organizations, however, is the ease with which imaginative or well positioned players from outside the news system can use news to attract an audience. Just as the television networks made their mark as entertainment media before making a serious and successful entry into news in the early 1960s,,, and other search engines and service providers are making a serious and successful foray into news. And if such sites came in through the side door, others have come in through the front door, offering users a form of news that traditional media were not providing. Sites driven by partisanship, by users, and by interactivity are now a significant part of Internet-based news and are likely to grow in audience and influence.
Newspapers are hampered by big bureaucracies and tight budgets. The new players are more nimble, and, in the case of Google, rich. The Enquirer is undermanned in this fight, and as you can see from this list, it doesn't even register among the most popular news sites.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Danged good thing you took the buy out when you did, pal.

6:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Big bureaucracies and tight budgets are only a small part. It is the BIG BULLSHIT that is the problem. Of course, the BIG BULLSHIT comes from the crappy-ass bureaucracies and budgets in place...

9:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Enquirer keeps patting itself on the back for its online traffic gains, which it gleefully aggregates and posts in internal memos.

However, the simple step of comparing the site's traffic growth with the growth of Internet users and traffic patterns in general is never mentioned. Or, I suspect, even considered.

They have people analyzing and proselytizing this data who clearly have little or no experience or training with statistical data analysis. Sample size and many other mitigating factors are ignored or inappropriately applied.

The simplest online traffic terminology is still a mystery to most in the newsroom. That is because there's very little internal marketing going on of any substance. And that is because the people responsible for doing so don't know what they're doing.

It's not really their fault, they've just been thrust into a role they weren't trained for. They're scrambling around, trying to save face/their jobs, dropping the latest buzzwords so they'll sound like they know what they're talking about. Everybody else smiles and nods, because they don't know what the person is talking about, either.

And so, as Kurt Vonnegut would have said, it goes.

9:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Think about it then, think about it again. What is it and what should it be?

9:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now believe me, the Enquirer's faults are numerous, but web traffic isn't one of them.

Posting a link to that list of "popular news sites" undermines your argument, as that is a list based on raw traffic numbers and not the size of the market. Do you really think a mid-size metro in a mid-size, population-stagnant city like Cincinnati would actually be comparable to the papers on this list? Most of them are in population boomtowns or much larger cities where the newspaper in question holds a considerable marketshare for hundreds of miles. That's just absurd and unrealistic.

I may be mistaken, but on lists that rank site traffic in terms of market size and reach, the Enquirer is routinely in the top five in papers its size.

I agree, it doesn't make up for the considerable problems, but at least get your problems right.

11:22 AM  

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