With more than a quarter of Americans getting their news from mobile devices, adapting to digital platforms is more crucial than ever for news organizations. But according to the 2012 State of the News Media report by Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, it’s the technology companies—not the news outlets themselves—that are seeing the biggest financial gains from these developments.
The report, set for release July 19, found that “the news industry is not much closer to a new revenue model than a year earlier and has lost more ground to rivals in the technology industry.” Traditional news organizations are trying to make money online through paywalls, licensing partnerships and the like. But according to PEJ, their efforts are “still limited” and “few news companies have made much progress in some key new digital areas” such as targeted advertising. Much of the reticence to adapt to these ads, said PEJ, comes from news outlets’ fear that readers will consider online behavioral tracking an invasion of their privacy.
Social media proved to be a substantial driver of online news consumption but not as much as expected. Surveys showed that no more than 10 percent of digital news consumers follow recommendations from Facebook or Twitter “very often,” and that most readers are still going directly to the news organization’s site or through its app to find information. That trend was even more pronounced on mobile devices.
Between 2010 and 2011, changes in audience and revenue numbers varied across news platforms, but in both cases, digital was the winner while newspapers lagged at the bottom. Digital news sites saw the biggest increase (17.2 percent) in monthly audiences, followed by slight rises in network TV news audiences (up 4.5 percent), while local TV, radio and cable TV news all rose 1 percent. Magazines lost less than 1 percent of their monthly audiences, while newspapers saw the largest decline at 4 percent.
At the same time, total online ad revenue rose by 23 percent, followed by a 9 percent increase in cable TV news revenue and a 1 percent increase in radio revenue. Revenue figures dropped for network and local TV news, magazines and newspapers, which fell 7.6 percent, the biggest percentage decrease.
Although online ad revenue couldn’t make up for print advertising losses at most titles, some magazines have managed to find a successful model—like The Atlantic, where digital ad revenue exceeded print ad revenue for the first time in October 2011. Other good news for magazines: 239 titles were launched in 2011, up from 193 magazines in 2010, while only 152 magazines folded, down from 176 titles in 2010 and 596 in 2009.
As technology continues to outpace news, and financial ties between the two realms become deeper (for example, YouTube’s partnership with Reuters or Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes’ purchase of The New Republic), PEJ asks whether the day will come when tech companies will acquire legacy news brands—either to broaden what tech companies can offer consumers or keep an established news outlet from dying. But what could be the news industry’s saving grace, said the report, is the fact that news is becoming more important than ever in people’s lives.