Business/Finance

Pew study missing a notion: What is the impact of quality on newspaper loyalty?

Pew reports this:

Nearly three quarters (72%) of adults are quite attached to following local news and information, and local newspapers are by far the source they rely on for much of the local information they need. In fact, local news enthusiasts are substantially more wedded to their local newspapers than others. They are much more likely than others to say that if their local newspaper vanished, it would have a major impact on their ability to get the local information they want. This is especially true of local news followers age 40 and older …

Then Steve Myers at Poynter says this:

The report goes on to say that 32 percent of these people say the disappearance of their local paper would have a major impact on their lives. Among people who aren’t that interested in local news, about half say their lives wouldn’t change at all if they didn’t have a local paper. Good, for newspapers, right?

But look at it another way: That means 68 percent of local news enthusiasts don’t believe the disappearance of their local paper would affect their lives in a major way. And 34 percent of such enthusiasts say the disappearance wouldn’t affect their lives at all.

But neither addresses how the quality of the local newspaper might affect these statistics of who would feel an impact and who would not if the local paper folded.

I stopped subscribing to my local paper five years ago. I simply was not getting value for the $191 a year it cost. I see the paper occasionally — in my journalism school’s reading rack, at doctors’ offices, or on counters at diners. I count the bylines. There are fewer different staff bylines than just a few years ago. The paper has even reprinted news from the day before. It boasts on the front page that it covers five counties (covering several hundred square miles). That is a fiction.

I live in a small town. Aside from coverage of the local high school’s sports teams, news coverage of my town is infrequent at best. And my town borders the city housing the eponymous paper.

If a local newspaper still tries to cover what matters to your pocket book and local governance, then it’s likely you’d feel an impact if the paper folded. But what has happened to large metro papers — staggering cuts of editorial and other positions — has to a lesser extent happened at smaller daily and weekly papers nationwide. If your local paper has suffered these losses of quality reporters, then it’s likely the paper will cover what matters to its pocketbook, not yours.

Newspapers have lost far more print advertising revenue than they have regained in digital ad revenue — $27 in print for every digital $1, says Alan Mutter at Newsosaur. So far, the web has not been a savior of the news business.

Quality matters. If readers find actual value (not perceived value emphasized by a newspaper’s marketing efforts) is worth the money, then readers would feel a loss if that newspaper folds.

Quality will only return with significant investment in creating a news product that matters to the real lives and real problems of the people who live in the newspaper’s area of influence.

And that investment is unlikely any time soon. Although various new business models have been proposed for the news industry, no single one or combination of several has taken hold effectively.

And Google’s not going to provide what I need to know about the small town in which I live.

1 reply »

  1. It seems ludicrous that you should even have to write that quality matters, doesn’t it?

    Newspapers have always been about making money period and everything else was simply the means. Public interest, commitment to the community, etc was an illusion. But dropping the pretense isn’t serving them as well as they’d hope, I don’t think. It’s kinda like a relationship where the guy is only in it for the sex. He talks to her, listens to her, takes her to dinner, and so on because if he doesn’t, she figures out that it’s ONLY about sex. Many men reading this (and all women) probably understand what happens when the pretense ends.

    This comment isn’t worthy of your post, I fear, but it’s the analogy that occurred to me…..