Online News Consumption Outstrips Daily Papers

Guests

Tom Rosenstiel, director, Pew Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism

According to the Pew Research Center, more people said they consumed their news online than from newspapers in the previous year. New hires at online-only news agencies nearly offset the number of jobs lost at traditional news outlets. And median audience at all three cable news channels declined.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

NEAL CONAN, host:

In 2010, for the first time ever, more people consume news online than from newspapers. The three cable networks saw their median audiences dwindle. That's the first time in at least a dozen years. And online-only sites added almost as many reporters as lost their jobs in print than broadcast.

The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism issued its annual State of the Media report today. If you're a journalist, how has your job changed in the past year? Give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website and get a link to the Pew study's report. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Project director Tom Rosenstiel joins us here in Studio 3A.

And, Tom, always nice to have you on the program.

Mr. TOM ROSENSTIEL (Project Director, Project for Excellence in Journalism, Pew Research Center): Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: And I would have guessed that online news usage overtook newspapers some time ago.

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: It took - it overtook newspapers for national and international news a year ago. But this was the first time if you look at all news. And part of that is because of the spread of mobile and smartphones and the ability to get online news everywhere.

But the thing that people forget is that there are 1,400 newspapers in the United States, and most of them are local, very small papers. The average paper is about 25,000 circulation. And the Internet really isn't competing for that kind of news, for the news about your town. Even television, really, can't get that local.

CONAN: And does that suggest that local news, at least in terms of print media, is doing fine?

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: It's doing better. Local newspapers have survived. Their audiences held up. Their advertising has held up better than big metro papers. Part of that is because little advertisers, the mom-and-pop shops around town, they don't have websites and they're not advertising on - and, you know, a Google search won't really get you to their front door, either.

CONAN: So they like the ad in the local newspaper delivered to customers who are a walk or a short drive away.

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: Yeah. And that's what most media in the United States is. We're a very big country, and most of our media is very local.

CONAN: Yet there are a lot of big cities with big metro dailies, and they are not doing so well.

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: They're not. We say that newspapers, since the year 2000, have lost 30 percent of their reporters and editors. It's probably more like 40 percent at big metro papers. My old paper, the LA Times, it's over 50 percent. My hometown newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, closer to 60, 65 percent of the newsroom is gone. But at the small papers, you may be looking at 10, 15, 20 percent shrinkage. That doesn't sound great, but, you know, compared to 65, feels pretty good.

CONAN: And does that suggest that coverage of local news is suffering?

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: The - as editors and publishers think about what's the future and how can they survive, they're saying let's get rid of the stuff that people can find somewhere else. So let's not have a Washington bureau. Let's not have a foreign bureau, because they can get that from the AP. But let's hang onto the suburban bureau over here, because nobody else is doing that, and that's a reason for us - for people to buy our paper.

CONAN: And a question: Does that suggest foreign and national news is suffering?

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: Yes, because that's the thing that people can find easily from other places. We analyzed the top websites in the country. In the top 12 websites in the United States in terms of traffic, two of them are British, the BBC and the Guardian. That's Americans wanting news about the rest of the world that they can't find from American sources.

CONAN: And the big American papers, are they saying, wait a minute, we can dominate this and we can provide this service to a news-hungry public?

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: Yes. In some ways, The Washington Post, for instance, which has suffered quite a bit, got rid of its national bureaus, but kept its foreign bureaus. So there's no bureaus in Denver and California anymore, but there are bureaus overseas. The New York Times - we talk about, oh, my goodness, look at how the digital world has changed things. The New York Times sells 1.1 million copies every day. Calculate it however you will, it works out to somewhere in a billion - in the neighborhood of maybe 10 million readers in the course of a week. But they have, depending on which metric agency you're using, 50 to 70 million unique visitors to their website.

So the Internet has increased, substantially increased the audience of The New York Times. And that's people going to their website, not just people getting their stuff through social networks and links that don't actually take them to the website, per se.

CONAN: Which raises the next question, which is the business model. Has The New York Times or anybody else figured out how to translate all those unique visitors into cash?

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: No. And the problem there are - the problems are myriad. One of them is that websites - there's no scarcity of websites, so you can't charge a lot for space on a website, even at a popular distention for an ad, which is -you know, the opposite was true in the old media. There was only one New York Times, and you had to pay their price.

The other problem - which is becoming only clearer this year and is one of the big findings in the report - is that online, news producers are having to split their revenue, share the revenue, because if you're buying an - if you're accessing the newspaper through an app on an iPad, Apple is not only taking 30 percent of the revenue and 30 percent of the app price, but Apple owns the audience data.

And every step of the way, if you buy an ad online, you're probably buying it through an independent ad network, which shares the revenue with the newspaper or the news organization. So if the news media made its money in the 20th century of being - by being the intermediary that advertisers needed to reach their customers, in the 21st century, there's a new intermediary, and it's probably a tech company, not a news company.

CONAN: What about the idea of firewalls? The New York Times is supposed to be shifting to one in, well, just a few months.

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: And we've been waiting and waiting and waiting.

CONAN: We're going to go to the phones and ask for reporters from around the country to call in and tell us how their job has changed in this brave new world. 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org.

Scott's calling, Scott with us from Waco in Texas.

SCOTT (Caller): Yeah. I'm driving from Dallas to Austin right now. I'm a broadcast journalist in Dallas. And I'm not sure if you can hear me, but -yeah. You know, I mean, our business has changed dramatically, not just in the last year, but, of course, ever since people started to get their news online.

I was telling your producer that, you know, the fact of the matter is, that as broadcast journalists, we used to be the place people would go when there was a story that was unfolding, like the situation in Japan. And the same way that you're covering it on NPR, we're covering it for our commercial radio station, and people generally would go to their radio. They would go to their TV, and they would try to get all the latest on something. And people still do that, I mean, in large numbers. I mean, you've seen the CNN ratings go through the roof, and we see our ratings go to the roof anytime there's some big event that's unfolding and people want to know the very latest.

But we're also having to compete with Facebook, with Twitter, with, you know, all of these online social networking sites where people are able to update themselves and update each other on what's going on, and we've had to immerse ourselves in that. I mean, there's been a real big push in our newsroom, as of late, to start every time you get any new detail about anything that you're putting on the radio, you also want to put it on your Twitter feed. You also want to put it on your Facebook page, because more and more people are getting their information that way.

And one thing that we're having to deal all the time is go on to our Twitter feed, go on to our Facebook on our own website and let people know, you know, we're updating you here online just like we're updating you on the radio. And I think that, you know, as this becomes more and more the way people are getting their information, if radio, television, newspapers and all the rest don't completely immerse themselves in this way of putting information, then they're going to be irrelevant.

CONAN: Scott, thanks very much for the call. And drive safely.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SCOTT: Yes, sir. Thank you.

CONAN: Okay. Appreciate it. He raised a couple of interesting points, social media being one of them.

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: Yeah. I think two things about this. One is you could see how a guy like Scott is stretched thinner, as he's busy updating his tweets and his Facebook and getting on all these different platforms. He has a little less time to just make phone calls and find out what happened. You're spending more time with distribution and less time with original reporting.

The other flipside of this is - this is, I think part, of why we saw cable news reach a tipping point.

CONAN: I was saying, he said, yes, their ratings go through the roof in a moment of crisis, but the rest of the time?

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: Yes, because, I think, people are becoming more accustomed to saying, oh, gee. I wonder what the latest is. I'll go to my phone. And that's very different than where we were five or six years ago, where the latest was on television.

CONAN: So they're going to their phone to find out the latest, as opposed to CNN or Fox News or anybody else.

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: They may be going to CNN on their phone, but it's not television ratings.

CONAN: Let's go next to Megan, Megan with us from Huntington, West Virginia.

MEGAN (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi.

MEGAN: I was a local news journalist, print, for a newspaper, and most of us lost our jobs.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MEGAN: They - there's less of a need for, you know, in-house journalists. A lot of people get their stuff from the Internet now, through AP or independent, you know. So it's, kind of, hard.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And so what are you doing now?

MEGAN: Right now, I'm getting my master's in education.

CONAN: And so, looking for a job. You've heard about the teacher cuts, no doubt.

MEGAN: Yeah. It's not fun.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MEGAN: But I'm going to make it. It'll be fine.

CONAN: Megan...

MEGAN: A lot of us are doing pretty well now. So...

CONAN: Well, we wish you the best of luck, and thanks very much for the phone call. Appreciate it.

MEGAN: Thank you.

CONAN: And that's another point that, indeed, a lot of print and broadcast reporters have lost their jobs. We mentioned earlier there have been a lot of hires in online-only media, places like Bloomberg. Have those made up for the losses?

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: They've made up for the losses numerically, but there's a shift in audience. Bloomberg is going to specialized, targeted audiences that are paying a fee. Bloomberg.gov is aimed at policymakers and people in government. Bloomberg's traditional news service is bought through a big, expensive terminal and is aimed at traders in the financial industry.

So you're seeing people who once covered the general interest news for the mass public, through newspapers and television finding - if they're finding work in journalism - in specialized areas for niche audiences.

There's a - the have and have-not dichotomy that we're going to see online is not who has broadband and who's wired, but who's getting their company to pay for an online subscription to information for professional audiences and who doesn't.

CONAN: And we talked earlier about a firewall, and the one place it's been successful is The Wall Street Journal.

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: Because, once again, that's an audience which is buying that information for their professional needs. In many cases, it's an expense account purchase, not something coming out of their family budget, as opposed to somebody who at home is saying: As a citizen, for my civic good, I should buy this newspaper.

CONAN: We're talking with Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Pew Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. The State of the News Media 2011 was released today.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

And let's go to - one area - let's see if we can go to David. David's with us from San Francisco.

DAVID (Caller): Hi, there.

CONAN: Hi, David.

DAVID: Hey, I was a journalist for the past 15 years covering environmental issues on the West Coast. And I switched to consulting just in 2010, consulting with large corporations and start-up corporations in environmental issues.

And, you know, I heard your person here make a comment about people turning to BBC and The Guardian, et cetera. And I think they're not just turning to that for a source of information in Europe, but just new information and fresh ideas on our country.

I think the BBC and the Guardian have great articles about the United States that United States doesn't even print - talk about.

CONAN: Interesting. Thanks very much, David. And he's right. A lot of people turn to especially British media to hear about the United States.

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: One of the things that - one of the phenomena you have as you look at this media landscape is so much repetition, the same story, so many distributed, so many different places, that if you are dipping deeper at home through your iPad or whatever device you're on, the - you're looking for something new, some fresh perspective, or more importantly, fresh information, fresh data that is adding to your knowledge. And these international sources are a way of getting that because they - the whole frame of reference is different.

That's the upside of this revolution. The fact that it's much easier to get to the BBC. You don't have to buy a shortwave radio and stay up in the middle of the night to listen to the BBC. I can get it anytime I want. And that multiplicity of perspectives and voices on the subjects that everybody's covering, like Japan, is clearly a superior situation to where we were a few years ago.

CONAN: Public media, despite uncertain government funding - and that's not just in this country, by the way - is actually adding viewers and listeners. And today, David Carr wrote in The New York Times - I got that delivered to my door - there's not a lot of money to be made in covering a war that has gone on in Iraq for nearly a decade, but both the BBC and NPR continue to be there. A few networks and some cable stations have taken an interest in covering the insurrection in Libya, but few have made the commitment that both worldwide radio stations did.

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: Yeah. I think one of the things that's missing here in the debate over public media is: Should the government pay for it, shouldn't it? What would happen if you defunded or cut the funding? It's the question of: What difference does it make if you have broadcasters and journalists who are freed from the commercial imperatives of the quarterly profits and ratings?

One of the things that we've seen is that NPR and public broadcasting on television has followed a programming scheme that has looked at the long run, because they haven't worried about what are the quarterly numbers. And the net result of that is that they cover different things and their audience is growing.

We've talked before in the show about how 30 percent of the time in our accounts - in our accounting - 30 percent of the time on NPR is about foreign affairs, versus 3 percent in commercial radio news. There are only 31 commercial, all-news stations left in the United States, and there are over 1,600 public radio stations that are providing hours and hours of news.

So that's a non-commercial entity doing something and benefiting in terms of audience, where the commercial market abandoned that because the short-term suggested it wasn't the way to go. It was expensive. So NPR has done it the old-fashion way long term, and all the empirical evidence would suggest had they been another commercial entity, they might not have done that.

CONAN: Or even more driven by commercial concerns.

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: Right.

CONAN: Tom Rosenstiel, thanks very much for your time today, as always. We appreciate it.

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: Thanks.

CONAN: Tom Rosenstiel is the director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. You can go see his report if you go to npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION. We'll have a link to it. And he joined us here in Studio 3A.

This is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.