Dr. Pradeep Mahapatra
The gradual collapse of print newspapers in the United States of America resulted in shaping new equations around the mass media landscape. Advertisement-dependent business model enriched the industry for over two hundred years since the beginning of the eighteenth century. The gradual shift of advertisement spending from print to the digital platform during the first two decades of the twenty-first century is considered as the principal cause of the disruption. Research findings published by the middle of 2022 shed light on the possible future of the news industry. Though the crisis developed in the U.S. may not be repeated in distant geographies, it is taken for granted that it will influence media trends in different degrees worldwide.
A spokesperson of business research and consultancy firm ‘Price WaterhouseCoopers’revealed in an interview at Cannes Lions Festival in France during June 2022 that by 2026 advertisement earnings of digital newspapers will surpass print newspapers in the U.S. However, by 2022 advertisement revenue still remained the main source of earnings for large newsrooms. It appeared to be a matter of curiosity that within four years the economics will turn around for digital newspapers.
‘Price Waterhouse Coopers’ prediction that U.S. digital newspaper advertisement revenue will eclipse print newspaper earnings will be the first of its kind in the major media market in the world. The report further explained that though the print newspaper will loose advertisement revenue between 2021 and 2026, digital newspapers will grow only marginally. Overall, the news industry will loose advertisement revenue. After Sara Fisher discussed the development in her newsletter Axios Media Trends, Harvard University’s Niemanlab published a list on a comparative study of the circulation of 20 highest circulated print newspapers between 2000 and 2022.
While the highest circulated USA Today faced a decrease of 91 percent of print circulation, The Wall Street Journal recorded 60 percent, The New York Times 69 percent, Less Angles Times 80 percent, The Washington Post 79 percent, The New York Daily 92 percent. Chicago Tribunal 82 percent, Long Island publication Newsday 83 percent, Huston Chronicle 88 percent and The Daily Morning News 87 percent of subscribers.
The Nieman Lab report identified various reasons for the decrease in print circulation. Different newspapers faced different problems which they could not mitigate. For example, USA Today was distributed in hotel rooms of a large chain of hotels. During the coronavirus pandemic, the hotels remained closed for a long period and the slowdown faced by the hospitality industry had an adverse effect on the circulation of the print newspapers. Moreover, since tourists move with smartphones in their hands and equipped with instant messaging services, the dependency on print newspapers in hotel rooms while on travel decreased.
Leading newspaper groups such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post publish digital versions of their media products along with print editions. Since they have tested the growing success in digital platforms, it appears they are not so keen to put extra efforts to increase the circulation of print newspapers. Media analysts believe that by the first two decades of the twenty-first century the news media ecosystem in the US has been already promoted to digital platforms.
Another report published during the middle of June 2022 by Medill School of Journalism, Media and Integrated Marketing of North Western University mentioned that the number of newspapers published in the US has come down to 6,377 by end of May 2022 from 8,891 in 2005. During the coronavirus pandemic between the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2022, a total number of 360 print newspapers closed shutters of their plants. It has been calculated that by 2022 US newspapers continue to die at the rate of 2 every week.
Print newspaper closures result in retrenchment and unemployment of working journalists. Many are forced to leave the profession altogether. With the scarcity of newspapers, it becomes difficult to get employment of choice. Though job opportunities in digital platforms and public relations arise, creative journalists fail to adjust themselves to the changing work culture. It is estimated that about 75,000 journalists were employed in newspapers in 2006, which came down to 31,000 in 2022.
Among other notable changes, out of 100 widely circulated newspaper establishments, 40 are seriously investing in their respective digital news platforms. They have started publishing only-digital versions at least once a week by 2022. In another development more and more print newspaper businesses are consolidated through chain publications. About two-thirds of weekly print newspapers belong to chains operating in small and mid-sized markets.
One of the other interesting revelations in the report points out that in absence of print newspapers the digital platforms fail to compensate for the vacuum. It is said empirical data proves that the regions lacking print newspapers tend to be poorer and less educated. About seven crore American citizens live in such news deserts. The downfall of print newspapers in U.S. may not get fully replicated in media markets elsewhere with immediate effect. But the prevailing situation gives a clarion call for restructuring print newspaper industry worldwide.
(English translation of the original Odia newsletter circulated by the author on July 8, 2022. https://tinyletter.com/pradeepmahapatra/letters/message-257. It is an open-source content, free for translation and reproduction)
Dr. Pradeep Mahapatra is a retired faculty of Journalism, Berhampur University, Odisha.https://about.me/pradeepmahapatra