I can’t figure out what to make of the strangely inconsistent findings in a pair of new polls measuring the degree of confidence that publishers have in the future of newspapers. Can you? Here is what we know:
On the bullish side of the ledger, a survey released recently by the University of Missouri found that two out of three publishers are “optimistic” about the future of the newspaper business.
On the bearish side, a separate online poll conducted by newspaper broker John Cribb has found consistently over the last four years that only one out of three publishers wants her or his kid to go into the newspaper business.
So, the question is this: If the outlook is so positive, why don’t more publishers want their progeny to follow in their footsteps? Comments gratefully accepted below.
As you consider your answer, here are a few more intriguing tidbits from the polls:
In a survey of 458 newspapers representing a third of the industry, the Missouri study found executives at papers with less than 50,000 in circulation to be far more optimistic than those at larger papers.
Of the 109 respondents who said they are “very optimistic” about the future of newspapers, 63% worked at papers of less than 25,000, 20% worked at papers of 25,000 to 50,000 in circulation and only 17% worked at papers of greater than 50,000 in circulation.
The disparity suggests that the newspaper business is healthier in small and medium markets than in metropolitan areas, where costs are higher, ad sales are weaker and digital competition is keener.
With respect to the future of the legacy product, 62% of all respondents to the Missouri survey said they do not envision a day when they no longer will put out print editions and 77% of respondents said their companies had not considered cutting back on the number of days they print papers during the week.
The Missouri poll was the first such effort by the Reynolds Journalism Institute, which intends to repeat the survey in subsequent years to begin tracking publisher confidence.
In a parallel initiative, newspaper broker John Cribb has been measuring the attitudes of publishers over the last four years in an online poll.
Unlike the Missouri poll, which quizzes a systematically selected sample of publishers, the Cribb survey depends on voluntary participation by people whose responses are solicited via email. Although Cribb’s methodology is less scientific than the Missouri effort, his poll has produced remarkably consistent results in the last four years, thus meriting our attention in the absence of any other known long-range sentiment surveys.
Starting in 2009 and continuing to this year, Cribb has found that only one publisher out of three wants her or his offspring to go into the newspaper business. At the lowest point (2010), only 31% of publishers thought newspapering would be a good career for their kids. The sentiment in 2012 was the highest in four years, with 36% of respondents saying they would encourage their children to go to work at a newspaper.
In another gauge of confidence, Cribb has been getting consistent responses from publishers over the last four years on the question of whether they would like own another newspaper. On average, only half of them said yes, with the appetite for acqusitions peaking at 52% in 2009, bottoming out at 46% in 2010 and standing at 49% today.
Because Cribb does not ask the same questions that Missouri asks about the long-range outlook for the business, there is no way to see how over-all confidence has trended in the last few years. If the Missouri study goes forward as planned, we will get a better idea of which way the wind is blowing.
Meantime, we’re left wondering why more publishers aren’t eager to have their kids enter a business they think is so promising. Do they just want to keep all the fun for themselves?