Newspaper Obituaries Grow as Confidence in the Medium Disappears


A move to digital formats was supposed to save the newspaper industry. However, the approach cannot work if the public's confidence in the industry slips toward zero. It seems that is exactly what is happening.

While the ability to make profits from print papers has nearly disappeared because of high costs and falling advertising, the industry has turned to online ads and paid online subscriptions to move itself toward a new generation of products that it believes ought to make money. However, with the exception of a very few papers like The New York Times Co. (NYSE: NYT) and Wall Street Journal, a rush to get readers to pay for Internet products has not worked. Additionally, recent data about online ad sales have show that, in many cases, this source of revenue actually has started to fall at many newspaper companies. If online ads were the industry's last and best hope, then there is no hope left.

The newspaper industry continues to believe that the investment it makes in content is the most important factor as it tries to differentiate itself from online upstart content sites. The evidence is plentiful that this has not worked. Sites that report news and rumors crop up with regularity. The content investment and quality proposition gets eroded every day.

The financial challenges of getting people to read content online and the rise in competition are compounded by a faltering of the public's view of the industry and its products. A new Gallup poll shows the erosion of confidence in newspapers:

Americans' confidence in newspapers fell slightly to 23% this year, from 25% in 2012 and 28% in 2011.


Newspapers rank near the bottom on a list of 16 societal institutions Gallup measured in a June 1-4 survey. Television news is tied with newspapers on the list, with 23% of Americans also expressing confidence in it. That is up slightly from the all-time low of 21% found last year. The only institutions television news and newspapers beat out this year are big business, organized labor, Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs), and Congress.

The results of the research could hardly be more grim. Is essence, the Gallup poll undermines the notion that a large investment in editorial content makes any difference. The data on television, which also invests a great deal of money in content, confirms the newspaper results.

Gallup hints that one cause for the erosion of confidence in media is that many are viewed as partisan. Worse than that, papers have moved to the point where they are irrelevant.


Methodology: Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted June 1 to 4, 2013, with a random sample of 1,529 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

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