WWPR Member Joan Coyle

 A Report on the Status of Newspapers in the United States

Are newspapers in America dying?  Paul Steinle and Sara Brown, long-time media professionals, are traveling to 50 states and visiting one newspaper in each state to report how these newspapers are recasting themselves in the digital age and to document the unique community roles these newspapers fulfill. In the process, they have created a national, multi-media snapshot of the status of the industry on their website, whoneedsnewspapers.org.

Since June 2010, they have visited 44 newspapers in 44 states, taking the pulse of a cross-section of dailies, weeklies, ethnic and alternative publications that include a mix of large and small papers, with varying circulation rates, 70 percent of which are privately owned while 30 percent are publicly traded.  The newspapers were recommended by the state press associations based on the papers’ innovative practices. 

Steinle and Brown presented their findings (to date) at the National Press Club on May 23.  We news junkies in attendance were delighted to learn that newspapers are not dying.  These vital newsgathering institutions are going through a major transformation, re-conceptualizing and re-positioning themselves.

J-Epiphanies,” videos of journalists sharing anecdotes about the events that helped them understand and appreciate the power and purpose of journalism, personalized the presentation and made it even more interesting.

The cultural shifts taking place in the newsroom have been difficult as the once a day mindset shifts to 24/7.  Reporters are becoming “Swiss Army Knives,” not just excellent writers. They now must be able to write for multiple platforms and produce video, among other tasks.

Carolyn McLaurin, online sales manager for the Fayetteville Observer discusses changes and challenges in advertising/sales departments in an interesting video interview. (Part 2: Skills and Digital Advertising Sales)

 Some of the findings to date:

  • Print is not dead.
  • The transformation is bringing new energy to newsrooms.
  • Local papers are the glue that holds the community together and “hyper-local” is one of the keys to success.
  • There is no silver bullet to finance the transformation form print to digital news delivery.  Everyone is looking for what will work.
  • As newspapers prioritize, “newspaper of record” is now extinct; limited resources require more focused coverage.
  • Newspapers’ reach has increased.  Print + Digital = More Readers.  
  • Single platform, three-dimensional newspapers are aspiring to become multi- platform, multi-medium news and information companies.

The Who Needs Newspapers reporters conducted five “bonus” interviews with professionals in the newspaper industry who discuss the business/revenue aspects of newspapers, profits and the future, small community newspapers and other topics of interest.