Why Newspapers Are Failing Online And What They Need To Do About It

Dec 18th, 2008 | By | Category: Commentary, General

The Bivings Group today announced their latest report on the use of the Internet by US newspapers, and, while newspapers are rushing to catch up blogs and new media sites – they are rushing to catch up with blogs and new media sites. 

According to Bivings Group’s Jesse Johnson, “Our study shows that newspapers are trying to improve their web programs and aggressively experimenting with a variety of new features. However, having actually reviewed all these newspaper websites, it is hard not to be left with the impression that the sites are being improved incrementally on the margins. Newspapers are focused on improving what they already have, when reinvention may be what is necessary in order for the industry to come out of the current crisis on the other side.”

As it happens, MediaShift’s Mark Glaser took a look at the future of news today, and his post offers some suggestions for the news industry, including starting blog networks, classified networks, experimenting with crowdfunding, customized newspapers, hyper-local ads, local portals, paid content and niche sites. 

While these articles both paint a grim picture of the newspaper industry, they really don’t go far enough. 

It’s time for the newspaper industry to realize that carnage is inevitable – the world simply needs a lot fewer people in traditional news roles than it once did. 

We’re looking at five years of trauma for the newspaper industry, with decimation on the scale of the typesetting industry in the 80’s and the color prepress industry in the 90’s. 

Obviously news isn’t going away – but only organizations that can compete on the Internet will survive. 

News organizations are going to have to explore the types of things that Glaser outlines, but they are also going to have to radically rethink what they do and take a hard look at what new media producers are doing with their blogs, blog networks, podcasts and Internet videos. 

Will newspapers survive in some shape or form? It’s looking grim.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments. 

Key findings from The Bivings Group report below.

Below are some key findings:

  • Newspapers are experimenting with user generated content.  The study found that 58 percent of newspapers allowed for user generated photos, while 18 percent accepted video and 15 percent articles.  Overall, 58 percent of newspapers offered some form of user generated content in 2008 compared to 24 percent in 2007.
  • Research shows that the number of newspaper websites allowing users to comment on articles has more than doubled in the last year.  Seventy five percent of newspapers now accept article comments in some form, compared to 33 percent in 2007.
  • Ten percent of newspapers had social networking tools, such as user profiles and the ability to “friend” other users, built into their sites in 2008. This compares to five percent of sites that included this feature in 2007. It is surprising that this number isn’t higher.
  • Seventy six percent of newspapers offered a Most Popular view of content in some form (Most Emailed, Most Blogged, Most Commented, etc.).  This compares to 51 percent in 2007 and 33 percent in 2006.
  • Integration with external social bookmarking sites like Digg and del.icio.us has increased dramatically the last few years.  Ninety-two percent of newspapers now include this option compared to only seven percent in 2006.
  • Every newspaper the study examined featured some sort of online advertising. Indeed, 100% of newspapers provided some form of contextual advertising, such as Google Adwords. Forty-three percent of newspaper websites used interstitial advertising.
  • Of the new features examined in this year’s study, we found that 57 percent of newspapers offer PDF editions, 20 percent offer chatting options, 96 percent provide local weather information, 40 percent utilize SMS alerts and 70 percent offer community event calendars.
  • The number of websites requiring registration to view most content (free or paid) has decreased from 2007.  Now only 11 percent of websites require registration to view full articles, compared to 29 percent in 2007 and 23 in 2006.
  • All of the 100 newspapers in the study provide some type of RSS feed. In 2007 all but three newspapers offered RSS feeds.
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