Last week, the Newspaper Association of America released some staggering statistics on the use of newspaper websites. The NAA — using comScore data — found that average daily visits had grown 21 percent in a year, and that more than 110 million unique visitors — nearly two-thirds of all Internet users — visited newspaper sites in the third quarter.
The success of newspaper websites, including the better-than-expected launch of the nytimes.com paywall, is another reminder that “old media” can’t be ignored simply because one of their versions is still printed with paper. Indeed, the new stats suggest that the influence of newspapers may be growing, as the growth in online audience more than makes up for print-circulation declines.
(I realize that growth of digital doesn’t mean that papers are out of the financial woods. But those in the communications industry have frequently confused the impact of newspaper journalism with the state of the business, assuming incorrectly that newspaper reporters had somehow become less influential because the businesses for which they worked were struggling. But that’s another post.)
The fact that newspaper websites are attracting more people, more often, for longer periods of time needs to be taken seriously by those focused on integrated marketing or communication as we look for ways to ensure that the right messages in the right context are getting out into the world. Here are the four ways the success of newspaper sites has changed what we need to pay special attention to:
- Deadlines are Dead. Journalists no longer have the luxury of waiting until the end of the day to get comment and file their stories. With 110 million people watching, news is being published as it happens. That means that every minute it takes a communication pro to get back to a journalist is a minute wasted.
- Papers are Doubling-Down on Areas of Advantage: Newspaper recognize that they have to bring unique content that readers won’t be able to get elsewhere on the web. In general, that’s meant more local news and more influence in those more specifc areas of expertise. We ignore those local experts at our peril.
- Syndicators Are on the Rise: While each paper wants to exploit its competitive advantage, they also want to give their readers a broader variety of journalism than can be created in-house. As a consequence, there has been an explosion in websites syndicating content from wire services and online outlets, meaning that the audience for those reporters is larger than ever before.
- Print is Still a Big Deal: 110 million unique visitors is impressive, but so is the existing base of print readers. Somewhere around 50 million American households still get the newspaper delivered every day (that’s more than twice the number who watch the American Idol finale). That’s an engaged, paying audience that can’t be forgotten in the rush to quantify impact.
Continued growth in newspaper readership is good news for professional journalism. It means not only is there an audience but an audience that is growing at a time when information options are expanding. Print may be dying, but newspaper journalism isn’t.