Tuesday, we read “Political observatories, databases & news in the emerging ecology of public information” by Michael Schudson. This article explained the need for “objective testimony” in journalism through the use of databases and public observatories for “data-gathering” and reporting information (Schudson 100).
Schudson utilizes Walter Lippmann’s book, Liberty and the News, to explain how journalism is failing modern democracy because of “untrained amateurs” and the “intricacy and unwieldiness of the subject matter” (100). Lippmann wanted journalism schools to broaden the training of journalists because the government—the administration—had become so complex and hard to follow (100). Schudson reports that Lippmann valued “objective testimony,” otherwise known as objective reporting (100). Lippmann called for agencies that could provide journalists with “reliable maps of the world,” and he called these agencies “political observatories” (Schudson 100). These “political observatories” are “independent, non-partisan, scientific organizations that would be committed to an agenda of research about the political and social world and that would be able to produce it in a form accessible to the competent journalist” (Schudson 101). Political observatories facilitate objective reporting and, as a result, aid journalists in their quest to inform the people.
Schudson writes that journalists rely on three different kinds of “expert sources:” “academic research, an internal government audit, and a nonprofit advocacy group” (102). Even though journalists rely on these sources for information, the importance of the journalist is not obsolete, he writes (105). However, he suggests that another aspect of journalism is in jeopardy—“metropolitan daily newspapers and the wire services,” otherwise known as mainstream, printed media (105).
Schudson gives a few reasons for the decline in printed mainstream media. Firstly, “young people do not read print newspapers as much as older people—or as much as younger people in times past” (105). Print newspaper readership has decreased across the board. Schudson writes that some of the decline can be explained by the increasing presence of online news, and some can be explained by the “greater availability of news through quasi-news outlets,” like The Daily Show with John Stewart, he writes (105). Essentially, people are not reading print newspapers as much as they did in the past. They are getting their news through other outlets—whether it’s online or on TV. Additionally, some people may be shifting away from news altogether (105).
Secondly, Schudson writes, newspapers, “took on a lot of debt in the past decade at exactly the wrong time” (106). When the 2008 recession hit, it affected nearly everyone and everything—even newspapers. “Newspaper ad income hit a record high of $49.4 billion in 2005,” but by 2008, “ad revenue was down to $38 billion”—that’s a 25% decrease (Schudson 106).
Advertising revenue was on the decline, and the Internet largely affected this profit loss (Schudson 106). The Internet was stealing both “readership and advertising,” which resulted in a significant loss of revenue for printed newspapers (Schudson 106). Advertising on eBay or Craigslist replaced the Classifieds section in newspapers—people were advertising online, rather than paying for a spot in a newspaper. Not only were newspapers losing revenue from readership declines, they were losing advertising revenue to the Internet, as well (Schudson 106).
Only a small portion of Schudson’s article covers printed media, so I wanted to do a little more research on the topic for my blog post this week. A lot of the data and articles I found were older articles—mostly from 2010 to 2012. I wanted to find something more recent and, therefore, relevant. The 2014 article, “The Big Shift in Newspaper Revenue” by Jim Bach from the American Journalism Review contends that, although circulation revenue picked up over 2013, it “failed to offset bigger declines in advertising,” which corroborates precisely what Schudson points out in his article. Newspapers are losing revenue, and a large portion of it is advertising revenue.
The good news, Bach writes, is that the “revenue decline is not as steep as a few years ago, thanks to a small uptick in reader payments from digital paywalls and increased subscription prices” (2). Bach’s article examines data from five large newspaper companies: Gannett, McClatchy, The New York Times Co, A. H. Belo, and Lee Enterprises. According to the companies’ latest financial findings, total revenue fell for each of the companies. Total revenue combined for all five of the companies only totaled $9 billion in 2013 (Bach 3). This is a 3.3 percent decrease from what the five companies reported in 2012 (Bach 3).
Experts suggest the “newspaper industry is undergoing a shift toward greater reliance on circulation.” Circulation accounted for only 20 percent or less of newspaper revenue in the past, but now accounts for 30 percent or more at some newspapers (Bach 3). Reliance on circulation revenue, rather than advertising revenue, is likely due to the substantial decline in advertising revenue—advertisers have largely shifted from advertising in newspapers to advertising online. Circulation revenue has picked up, even though newspapers continue to lose print subscribers (Bach 4). Newspapers are gaining in circulation revenue because of increased subscription dues and “implementing paywall models at their websites” (Bach 4). Still, this corroborates what Schudson suggests in his article—printed newspaper readership and revenue is declining, and it’s largely due to the presence of Internet news and advertising outlets.
In 2003, circulation revenue accounted for 27.2 percent of total revenue for the New York Times (Bach 4). In 2013, circulation revenue accounted for 49.5 percent of its total revenue (Bach 4). This is a sizeable increase, but how long can circulation revenue “continue to climb,” Bach questions (4)? He contends that newspapers should try to find new sources of revenue to offset the costs of declining advertising revenue (5). He believes these sources can include “digital marketing services, sponsoring events and conferences, and in-house publishing activities to help other papers looking for publishing services” (Bach 5).
How many of us actually subscribe to and read a printed newspaper? Scott, I know you do. But, I know I get my news from the Internet, and many Americans are moving toward that shift, according to both Schudson and Bach. They both agree that the future of printed journalism, specifically newspapers, is unclear. Many newspapers, like the New York Times, offer online subscriptions, and it is evident that circulation revenue will have to become a larger part of total revenue for newspapers. Printed newspapers cannot compete with the Internet when it comes to advertising services, products, sales, etc. Newspapers will have to start utilizing the Internet as a resource if they want to stay afloat in this changing market.