Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Good enough isn't good enough

The Newspaper Association of America proudly reports that nearly one in three Americans read an online newspaper in March, and that’s nice. But newspapers should not take this as evidence that everything is hunky-dory. It’s not.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 77% of men and 66% of women use the Internet to keep up with the news, making it the No. 1 online activity. If the NAA is correct in saying 29% of news seekers are going to newspaper sites, then that means well over half of the potential audience is getting the news someplace else.

We know where they are going, too. Yahoo News, CNN, AOL and MSNBC are the top four online news destinations, far outpacing the closest print competitor, the New York Times.

But, wait, there’s more. In its survey of Internet usage during the 2004 presidential election, Pew found a significant generational divide between young and old news consumers:
Among the people under the age of 35 with high-speed connections at home, 40% said that the Internet was their main source of campaign news, twice the number (21%) who cited the newspaper. By contrast, those over the age of 35 with broadband at home, 26% said the Internet was their main source of campaign news, compared with 45% of the group who said the newspaper is mainly where they turned for news about the campaign.
Although I personally think people over the age of 35 – and, heck, even over the age of 105 – still matter, this survey illustrates that newspapers are not the top-of-mind destination for news-hungry members of the under-35 crowd. This not only displeases advertisers who favor youthful demographics, but also has unpleasant implications for the long-term prospects of print.

Here’s the conundrum: If people, even young people, are interested in the news; AND, if people, especially young people, like getting it on the Internet; AND, if newspapers are nothing if they are not sources of news, THEN, why don’t more people go to newspaper websites?

The answer was provided to a degree in a recent Carnegie Foundation study gauging consumer perceptions among newspapers and other media. As shown in this chart from an earlier posting, newspapers are seen as being harder to use, less trustworthy, more stodgy and even later with the news than competing media.

The real or perceived limitations of the print product, therefore, appear to affect (infect?) perceptions of the online product. Most publishers have contributed unwittingly to this problem by trying to make their websites seem as much like the paper as possible, populating their web pages with the same stories published in print.

To change perceptions and, significantly, to build valuable new audiences and revenue opportunities, publishers must develop websites that are more appealing to Net-native users.

Without compromising the dignity or credibility of their franchises, publishers need to add multiple media, searchable databases, interactive features, search tools, reader-participation features, shopping environments, entertainment listings, sports challenges and more.

If publishers learn to live, think and work in the Wired Age, they have a shot at reclaiming a fairer share of the online news market than they enjoy today, a doubly strategic imperative that at once will buttress their core business and create valuable new future market opportunities.

Good enough isn’t good enough.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a writer/editor for a student newspaper, I can understand most traditional print paper's problems with getting readership on the web. Certainly, my paper's website doesn't enjoy high readership levels, which is especially surprising considering the audience is all "web-savy", and the content is all student oriented.

Personally, I think that print news doesn't transfer to the web. Web readers prefer shorter articles. Sites like the simply transfer their lengthy print text onto the site. Perhaps they need to do an abbreviated version for the web? Our own student paper ( suffers from this problem.

I think the BBC website ( has a great formula for the web. Short, informative, constantly updated content. As to whether that model can make money (it's funded by the UK public) is another matter.



8:51 AM  

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