Tom Brokaw's Glass House

The newspaper industry got a cold dose of impending reality from former NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw, in comments he made at a promotion of his recent book.  Concerning the Washington Post, he said, "It'll be probably digital 10 years from now."  Digital as in paperless. Why would he say that?

The yearly incremental decline of daily newspaper circulation rates continues. Over multiple years, the trend line is a steady 45° downward slope.  Twenty-two of the top twenty-five newspapers experienced daily circulation declines between November '06 and '07.  The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (-9.08%), San Diego Union-Tribune (-8.53%) and the Dallas Morning News (-7.68%)  are in a veritable freefall.  The Washington Post dropped 3.23%.   At its current rate of decline, the New York Times hardcopy coverage of 2016 Election Day results will be read by one-third fewer readers than today.  As business travelers know, countless free copies of a paper that showed an increase are routinely ignored in hotels across the nation-USA Today (+1.04%).


Declining ad revenues accompany declining circulation.  According to Editor & Publisher ,
"Online revenue in Q3 represented 7.1% of total ad revenue, compared to 5.4% in Q3, 2006.  But total advertising revenue for both print and online in Q3 slid 7.4% to $10.9 billion. Print advertising revenue plummeted 9% to $10.1 billion." 
In other words, newspaper websites are generating revenue, but not fast enough to make up for lost revenue from the declining circulation of hardcopies.  Consequently, many newspapers are in a drag race to the cliff.  The critical question-will they be able to replace lost hardcopy revenue with web-based revenue in time to forestall collapse?  The likely answer: Some will; some won't.

This is not news to the newspaper industry.  On January 31-February 1, 2008, the International Newspaper Marketing Association (INMA) will meet in Palm Springs, CA.  The event name has been changed from "Circulation Summit" to "Summit On Audience Development."  The industry knows that its hope for the future is in diversifying its approach to market.  The theme of next year's meeting will be "The Audience Revolution: Transforming Delivery into a Multi-Media Vehicle." Translation: The tree-killing part of our business is dying, so we'd better find other ways to stay solvent by reacting to a future that's already here.

So, Brokaw was telling the Washington Post what it already knows.  But he spoke from inside a glass house: its address, "Old Network TV News."   The prognostication for the future of NBCABCCBS Evening News is as bad as it is for the old newspapers.  "An Annual Report on American Journalism 2007", published by journalism.org, states that the total evening network news audience has "...dropped by about 1 million [viewers] a year for the last 25 years."  Since 1980, the downward trend line of Big Three evening news viewers mirrors that of the top 25 newspapers.  The ratings race for leading network news anchorperson is a show that could be entitled Dancing With the Dinosaurs.  What's the problem?  Simple: "In 2006, the median age of nightly news viewer stayed at roughly 60 years."  The audience is dying; younger viewers are not picking up the slack. 

So what does all this mean to the future of journalism?  Writing for the Winter 2006 publication of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University, the title of an article by William Dietrich's (he writes for the Seattle Times) asks,  "Are Journalists the 21st Century's Buggy Whip Makers?"  Are they "...in danger of becoming a luxury society no longer can afford?"  Does the "...ubiquity of information make traditional journalism less valuable or even obsolete?" 

He concludes that, "...although we [traditional news sources] have lost our monopoly on information," journalists are "indispensable."   Brokaw concurred  saying,
"There will never not be a need for professional people to take complicated information, put it into a form that viewers and readers will need to know and want to understand." 
In a parting shot to the world of web-based news, Dietrich wrote, "The Web, meanwhile, has too few well trained in the pursuit of accuracy, fairness and perspective.  Like the Platte River, web journalism threatens to become a mile wide and an inch deep."

Note: As a tributary of the Missouri River, the 300 miles of the Platte River played a key role in the westward growth of the United States by supporting settlers who traveled along the Oregon and Mormon Trails. 

People who visit websites like the American Thinker understand something Dietrich and Brokaw may not fully appreciate.  With the advent of the Internet, the American Fourth Estate has expanded to include literate, thinking, journalistic citizens who communicate clear, concise and factual news-news delivered within an educated context, and often without an ideological bias.  And that river is flowing.
The newspaper industry got a cold dose of impending reality from former NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw, in comments he made at a promotion of his recent book.  Concerning the Washington Post, he said, "It'll be probably digital 10 years from now."  Digital as in paperless. Why would he say that?

The yearly incremental decline of daily newspaper circulation rates continues. Over multiple years, the trend line is a steady 45° downward slope.  Twenty-two of the top twenty-five newspapers experienced daily circulation declines between November '06 and '07.  The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (-9.08%), San Diego Union-Tribune (-8.53%) and the Dallas Morning News (-7.68%)  are in a veritable freefall.  The Washington Post dropped 3.23%.   At its current rate of decline, the New York Times hardcopy coverage of 2016 Election Day results will be read by one-third fewer readers than today.  As business travelers know, countless free copies of a paper that showed an increase are routinely ignored in hotels across the nation-USA Today (+1.04%).


Declining ad revenues accompany declining circulation.  According to Editor & Publisher ,
"Online revenue in Q3 represented 7.1% of total ad revenue, compared to 5.4% in Q3, 2006.  But total advertising revenue for both print and online in Q3 slid 7.4% to $10.9 billion. Print advertising revenue plummeted 9% to $10.1 billion." 
In other words, newspaper websites are generating revenue, but not fast enough to make up for lost revenue from the declining circulation of hardcopies.  Consequently, many newspapers are in a drag race to the cliff.  The critical question-will they be able to replace lost hardcopy revenue with web-based revenue in time to forestall collapse?  The likely answer: Some will; some won't.

This is not news to the newspaper industry.  On January 31-February 1, 2008, the International Newspaper Marketing Association (INMA) will meet in Palm Springs, CA.  The event name has been changed from "Circulation Summit" to "Summit On Audience Development."  The industry knows that its hope for the future is in diversifying its approach to market.  The theme of next year's meeting will be "The Audience Revolution: Transforming Delivery into a Multi-Media Vehicle." Translation: The tree-killing part of our business is dying, so we'd better find other ways to stay solvent by reacting to a future that's already here.

So, Brokaw was telling the Washington Post what it already knows.  But he spoke from inside a glass house: its address, "Old Network TV News."   The prognostication for the future of NBCABCCBS Evening News is as bad as it is for the old newspapers.  "An Annual Report on American Journalism 2007", published by journalism.org, states that the total evening network news audience has "...dropped by about 1 million [viewers] a year for the last 25 years."  Since 1980, the downward trend line of Big Three evening news viewers mirrors that of the top 25 newspapers.  The ratings race for leading network news anchorperson is a show that could be entitled Dancing With the Dinosaurs.  What's the problem?  Simple: "In 2006, the median age of nightly news viewer stayed at roughly 60 years."  The audience is dying; younger viewers are not picking up the slack. 

So what does all this mean to the future of journalism?  Writing for the Winter 2006 publication of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University, the title of an article by William Dietrich's (he writes for the Seattle Times) asks,  "Are Journalists the 21st Century's Buggy Whip Makers?"  Are they "...in danger of becoming a luxury society no longer can afford?"  Does the "...ubiquity of information make traditional journalism less valuable or even obsolete?" 

He concludes that, "...although we [traditional news sources] have lost our monopoly on information," journalists are "indispensable."   Brokaw concurred  saying,
"There will never not be a need for professional people to take complicated information, put it into a form that viewers and readers will need to know and want to understand." 
In a parting shot to the world of web-based news, Dietrich wrote, "The Web, meanwhile, has too few well trained in the pursuit of accuracy, fairness and perspective.  Like the Platte River, web journalism threatens to become a mile wide and an inch deep."

Note: As a tributary of the Missouri River, the 300 miles of the Platte River played a key role in the westward growth of the United States by supporting settlers who traveled along the Oregon and Mormon Trails. 

People who visit websites like the American Thinker understand something Dietrich and Brokaw may not fully appreciate.  With the advent of the Internet, the American Fourth Estate has expanded to include literate, thinking, journalistic citizens who communicate clear, concise and factual news-news delivered within an educated context, and often without an ideological bias.  And that river is flowing.