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For Troubled Media Industry, Some Hope as Mobile News Consumption Grows

April 5, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
As more Americans use mobile devices and social media to consume their news, the appeal of traditional news outlets is up, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center that scrutinizes the industry's health. Judy Woodruff and the Center's Mark Jurkowitz discuss some encouraging developments amid ongoing industry woes.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now: two media stories, beginning with the health of the industry.

Barely a week goes by without more bad news about the financial condition of traditional media, but a recent report from the Pew Research Center found some encouraging developments amid continuing problems.

Some of the key findings: Consumers are increasingly using mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, to add to the amount of news they read. They also are finding some of the news through Facebook and Twitter links, but not in huge numbers yet.

At the same time, newspapers are increasingly trying to make money off the content that they provide on the Web, even as print circulation and ad revenue continue to decline.

Mark Jurkowitz is the associate director of the center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. And he joins me now.

It’s good to see you again.

MARK JURKOWITZ, Pew Research Center: Thank you, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, just before we get to specifics, it seems to me the bottom line when it comes to audience is that, for most of the media, there’s been a — what, a stemming of the bleeding in audience numbers?

MARK JURKOWITZ: Yes.

We saw some — we saw a little bit of a turnaround in audience numbers, particularly in television. One thing we should — to give it context — is, 2011 was a big news year. We had the earthquake in Japan, we had the Arab Spring, we had the intensification of the presidential race.

So there were a lot of major news events, and I think that was reflected in growth of almost 5 percent, for example, in the network news audience, which reverses declines, a small, but, you know, modest growth in local television news, which reversed declines, a little bit of an uptick in cable, although there the big news is that CNN in prime time actually enjoyed a significant jump.

And the newspaper sector was down in circulation, but only about 4 percent, which, frankly, stems the bleeding a little bit. So in terms of audience members, 2011 was not grim.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So let’s talk about something we find really interesting, that, in online news, you’re seeing significant growth second year in a row, something like 17 percent?

MARK JURKOWITZ: 17 percent in terms of unique audience. All of the action is obvious in digital. Digital revenues overall were up about 23 percent.

Everybody knows that all the action is in digital. The question, of course, the huge question for the news industry is whether they can monetize those eyeballs.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Make money off of it.

MARK JURKOWITZ: And — right — and whether the news part of digital becomes the place where advertisers go.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So are you seeing patterns in how people are getting their news online?

MARK JURKOWITZ: Well, people get their news online from a variety of different sources. We know that, for example, a small part are actually getting it through social media contacts and referrals.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right. And we have a — in fact, we have a chart.

MARK JURKOWITZ: Although there was some speculation that, in the world of Facebook, everyone was going to use their friend and their mother to be their editor. That hasn’t happened yet.

Only 10 percent of social media users say they’re very likely to follow the news recommendations of somebody they know and like. The rest of the way that people get to online news is, frankly, through a series of different pathways.

Some of it’s search, although that’s lessened recently. And we can talk a little bit more about that. Some of it’s directly to Web sites, and some of it is through aggregation sites. So people are still finding their way to digital news through a variety of portals, not as much as you might think yet on the social media, despite the growth there.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we noticed those percentages added up to a little more than 100. You gave people several choices. They could say more than one.

MARK JURKOWITZ: Correct.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But once they get to these sites, I think you’re also finding they’re spending more time there.

MARK JURKOWITZ: Yeah, there’s a little bit — for one thing, we should say the Facebook phenomenon itself, by the way, in terms of the amount of time that people spend on that site is about seven hours a month, which is far larger than anything any — now, that’s not all news-related activity, obviously.

But there’s more engagement, and there’s more engagement through mobile and mobile devices. And that’s one of the things that’s been a positive sign right now for the news media.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, when people — for people who — you specifically asked people, if you have a smart phone, if you have an iPad, how much do you use those devices to access. . .

MARK JURKOWITZ: Right. And let’s talk about the growth just of those devices — 44 percent of Americans have now a smartphone — 18 percent have a tablet — 27 percent of all Americans say they get news now through mobile devices.

And the good news so far is that, rather than replacing other news use, it seems to be enhancing the experience. We find that people are using mobile devices to more directly access news organizations through either apps or websites. That’s a positive sign.

And I will also tell you that legacy media platforms hold a lot of optimism that mobile and particularly the phone will be a significant revenue source going forward.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Because when people do use their smartphone or their tablet computer, they’re going to traditional news sites?

MARK JURKOWITZ: That — many of them are going to traditional news sites. They’re obviously doing other things.

But we have found, for example, that, in one of our studies, that mobile users were able to drive traffic to newspaper websites, the classic legacy organization. So right now, the news there is good.

Having said that, for the industry itself, all these advances still pose huge challenges. There need to be investments made for legacy news organizations to figure out how to use these media effectively. And, also, the big technology companies are still dominating our digital life and online advertising.

JUDY WOODRUFF: When you say the big technology companies, you’re talking about. . .

MARK JURKOWITZ: The Googles of the world, yes, exactly.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So just a line at the end here, Mark Jurkowitz, about newspapers. What do you see?

MARK JURKOWITZ: Newspapers remain a very troubled industry, the hardest hit by the economic transformation.

Right now, the stunning statistic is that, in 2011, for every one dollar that newspapers gained in digital ad revenue, they lost $10 in print. That’s not a trajectory for success. And we did a little extra work with them and basically talked to newspaper execs and found that most of them acknowledge that the single biggest obstacle to them with a successful business model is the culture clash internally between whether they are a digital company and whether they are more steeped in the legacy tradition. And that hasn’t yet been resolved in many cases.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean in terms of their employees?

MARK JURKOWITZ: In terms — employees and management levels, too.

There’s this what we call the culture war within these organizations about, how digital should we be? And the unusual thing is and sort of the cruel irony here is that, while everybody intellectually knows the future is digital, 85 percent of revenues still come from the old dead tree product that is eroding as a business model.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you’re finding — and some of that clearly generational.

MARK JURKOWITZ: Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: People who are used to picking up a newspaper in the morning.

MARK JURKOWITZ: Although — yes, although, within the staffs themselves, not necessarily.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And just a quick word about broadcast. You said that you did see some pickup in broadcast.

MARK JURKOWITZ: We did see — we did see — both on the morning and evening network programs, we saw the audience increase, which was a very positive sign. We saw upticks in local news.

And, obviously, we would frankly expect a big year in 2012 with the presidential. And on the revenue side for local television news, political campaigns do wonders for the bottom line.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, all of us at the NewsHour, because we’re a news organization, fascinated by this, and I think many people in our audience are, too.

Mark Jurkowitz, thanks very much.

MARK JURKOWITZ: Thanks for having me.