On June 15th, Pew Research Center came out with their 2016 “State of the News Media” research study. The study highlights a decline in print newspaper circulation, concluding that the newspaper industry is “shrinking.” However, the report omits a significant factor in today’s news consumption: It does not include users that come across news while on Facebook, Twitter and other online platforms as news readers which, when taken into account, translate to growth in digital circulation.
The study states that the findings are based on “survey questions asked of individuals who self-reported reading a newspaper online or in print in the past 30 days… It does not include everyone who lands upon a newspaper website while searching for news information or following a link from an email or social networking post.” Since the study does not account for the shift in news consumption to online social media channels, it is misleading to say that the industry is declining. A more accurate conclusion is that news consumption continues to grow and evolve as newspaper publishers develop new ways to disseminate content that readers care about, while adapting to their changing needs and behaviors.
During a time of growth in the digital social media phenomenon, online consumers are a leading and thriving news audience. Pew acknowledges this in the report, stating, “In the modern era, looking at newspaper subscribers as the only readers of newspaper content misses an important part of the story.” And it’s true; without accounting for traffic from those who come across news while online, the incorrect idea that the newspaper industry is declining persists.
Pew Research Center has previously pointed to social media as a significant form of news consumption. In its “News Use Across Social Media Platforms” study from May 2016, it reported, “A majority of U.S. adults – 62% – get news on social media, and 18% do so often.” This study indicates the strong use of social media channels for news readership. A fuller and more accurate picture of news consumption can be seen when looking at both of these studies together.
There will never be a time when people don’t need news. In fact, we are seeing a higher demand than any other generation in history—creating an era of tremendous opportunity. There is always breaking news to be discovered and valuable stories to be told; now it’s just more accessible, engaging, and instant than ever before. As David Chavern, President and CEO of the News Media Alliance, stated in a recent article, “People consume more hard news than ever, including millennials…the vast (and expanding) availability of news sources today means that consumption is just that much easier.” Therefore, news availability through digital and social media platforms is prompting our market to expand. Pew stated in its report, “when it comes to all newspaper website visitors—not just subscribers—the newspapers analyzed all had more digital traffic than print subscribers.”
Newspapers’ mobile audience is reaching new peaks as the digital world progresses. According to News Media Alliance’s “The Reach of Newspaper Digital Media” infographic, as of December 2015, 89 million readers consumed newspapers through mobile devices. Additionally, according to comScore, eight in ten Americans read newspaper digital media each month. Therefore, the expanding possibilities for news readership are opening doors for our industry.
Promoting isolated statistics about declining print circulation out of context leads to an inaccurate portrayal of a changing industry. In reality, evolution and experimentation with new technologies leads to growth in digital readership. And while it is true that print isn’t what it once was, a new study by WAN-IFRA shows that global print newspaper circulation is actually growing. MediaLife Magazine reported the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers’ (WAN-IFRA’s) latest findings, which show that global newspaper circulation increased by 4.9 percent in 2015, with more than 2.7 billion adults around the world reading print newspapers.
Today, news is much more than words on a page. News is instantaneous. News is motion graphics, audio design, and videography. News is modernized and digitalized. But this reorganization and fast-paced innovation is far from a failure. Instead, changes in news consumption create an opportunity for new perspectives and invite, rather than end, an extraordinary time for news media.
Emma Benninghoff is a student and former communications intern at News Media Alliance.