In 2011, the University of Southern California (USC) Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism released a study on the state of the media. Jeffrey Cole, director of the Annenberg's Center for the Digital Future, issued ten predictions for the futures of news media.
Many of those predictions have come true. He predicted the explosion of social media and the degradation of content online. According to the study, back in 2011, 51 per cent of users reported finding none or only a small portion of the information they saw on social networking sites to be reliable. Flash forward to 2017 and the war against Fake News.
Cole also predicted the slow death of the PC (ongoing), the rise of the tablet (not so much), the loss of privacy (too true), the tenuous role of the internet in politics and changing buying habits. Overall, what he describes is very close to the reality we all live in. However, he did make one major miscalculation.
"Most U.S. print newspapers will be gone in five years."
Cole's future only saw the survival of the largest and smallest print newspapers. "It's likely that only four major daily newspapers with global reach will continue in print: The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal. At the other extreme, local weekly newspapers may still survive, as well as the Sunday print editions of metropolitan newspapers that otherwise may exist only in online editions."
Now, in 2017, I'm happy to report he was wrong. Last year, the estimated total U.S. daily newspaper circulation reached 35 million Americans for weekday delivery and 38 million for Sunday. It is an audience that not only believes in the importance of journalism, but also understands that print is a pretty good technology. It is readable in all sorts of ambient light, needs no batteries and is incredibly efficient at delivering a wide array of information. (I still contend that there is nothing yet online that is as efficient at key information delivery as a scan across a front page of a print newspaper.)
Print is also still a good vehicle for high value advertising. When you advertise in a print newspaper, it ends up in the hands of a trusting and vast audience, with 74 percent of readers trusting the print newspaper compared to the 49 percent who put their trust in Twitter.
Online news articles are read for an average of 30 seconds--how much time do those flash-readers really spend looking and interacting with advertisements? Milliseconds? Compare that to print, which sits in readers hands for an average of 40 minutes, daily.
In 2016, 56 percent of American readers still only read print newspapers. The "death of print" has been greatly exaggerated. In fact, circulation revenue has been steady over the past few years, rising from $10.4 billion in 2012 to $10.9 billion in 2015 and 2016.
The bottom line is that the industry we represent is, first and foremost, in the news business - and the audience for our journalism is larger than it has ever been in history. We deliver news to people in every way they want to consume it. Some want digital, some want print and a whole bunch of people want both. No one should be too quick to tell audiences how they should consume their news - and we should all expect a large segment of our audience to enjoy the ease and efficiency of a print product for some time to come.
• David Chavern is president and chief executive of the News Media Alliance. He has built a career spanning 30 years in executive strategic and operational roles, and most recently completed a decade-long tenure at the United States Chamber of Commerce.