Back in the early 2000s, I decided that I no longer wanted to be a news producer. I wanted to enter the exciting field of new media. I recall how the television station I was working for at the time had just launched its website. There was a team of web journalists dedicated to adding the reporter’s stories to the website after they aired. And if there was any breaking news that happened during the news cycle, they posted it. News releases were also shared online to keep the website updated. For some reason, I was fascinated by the web team. So I taught myself HTML4 and when an opening became available, I applied. I was given the opportunity to be part of the web team. By this time, it was just two of us plus a manager. I remember it being so exciting every morning when we received the analytics for the previous day. Our goal was to reach at least 100,000 page views. On the days we achieved that goal, we were ecstatic.
I was thankful for the forethought of the Belo executives. Belo was the corporation, based in Dallas, TX, that owned the television station I worked for in Charlotte. They had created Belo Interactive because they recognized the importance of “new media” or so I thought. I believe it was in 2004 when I was summoned to the human resources department and told that Belo Interactive was dissolving and that I was being laid off. I was devastated. I absolutely loved that job. But there was nothing I could do.
Thankfully, that wasn’t the end of my digital career because I went on to work at places that recognized and appreciated the need for someone with “new media” experience. I reveled in my ability to share my digital knowledge with print reporters and editors. Some were open to the idea that the news industry was changing, while others thought there was no way it could topple newspaper giants.
Fast forward to 2021, and it’s amazing to see the prevalence of digital media. It’s crucial to the success of any news organization. Because of this 5G world that we live in, everyone wants their news and information yesterday! No one likes to wait until the newspaper is printed or when the 6 o’clock news is aired. Impatience is a direct result of our desire for speed. Big tech companies are constantly trying to find ways to make things faster and faster. Simon Lockington, Director of Global Solution Architecture, reported in “The Future of 5G: What Will the Impact Be?” that 5G networks are expected to be at least 100 times faster than current 4G networks.
Consumers’ impatience is what directly threatens traditional media. The need for information, in small digestible forms, is what drives what is formally known as “new media”. Newspapers, that are supported by ads and circulation, have seen a drastic decline in revenue as a result of digital platforms. Let’s think about classified ads for a minute. During my days at the newspaper, there were people dedicated to selling that section. They have a person who was responsible for receiving phone calls from customers who wanted to place an ad. Business writer John Reinan referred to classifieds as the “golden goose” of newspapers. Reinan reported that newspaper classified advertising peaked in 2000 at $19.6 billion. But when digital products such as Craigslist were published, it killed the newspapers’ golden goose. What was different about Craigslist? It was free. How could newspapers compete with that? It couldn’t.
Even today, newspapers struggle to compete when it comes to advertising. Google and Facebook are now the culprits taking money that would have otherwise had gone to newspaper companies. The Pew Research Center reports that newspaper print ad revenue fell by nearly two-thirds between 2006 and 2016, from $49 billion to about $18 billion. In addition, Research from eMarketer shows companies will be spending more than $129 billion on digital advertising in 2019, and is predicted to balloon to more than $172 billion by 2021. It’s hard to recover from such losses, especially when digital is not your forte. Some newspaper organizations have tried to develop competing products to recoup some revenue. But those efforts have not been met with much success.
People consume so much news on a daily basis and most of that is online. News organizations are constantly competing for readers’ attention. That includes television, print, radio and websites. The Pew Research Center found that an overwhelming amount of consumers get their news online. It found in a 2018 survey that 34% of adults received news online and that’s a number that continues to grow. As a matter of fact, it reported that “nearly as many Americans prefer to get their local news online as prefer the TV”. But where does that leave newspapers? Readers desperately need a source for reliable, trustworthy, and verified news. This doesn’t mean that other forms of media don’t fact-check their news reports. However, I feel that newspapers have a reputation for taking time to properly research stories and do not publish those stories until that research is done.
How do newspapers stay relevant in an era where time is of the essence? They’ll have to use their digital products to provide content that can be seen no where else. Consider video. Obtaining and sharing exclusive video content online is one way for newspapers to compete digitally. Video that is shocking, unusual or exclusive usually gets the most attention. But newspapers, and other news organizations should be sure to add a watermark if they want credit. Because in today’s digital age, the video will be taken and shared across the web, with or without the organization’s permission.
Nevertheless, the competition among news organizations is fierce. Each medium, from television to print to digital are working hard to produce timely content for consumers. But one thing is for sure, digital, the new kid on the block, is keeping everyone on their toes. Digital is here to stay so developing new strategies to incorporate it is essential to being the preferred choice of consumers.