In a business climate of plummeting advertising and circulation revenue that has seen editorial budgets slashed, newsroom functions outsourced, legacy obligations become an ever increasing burden and print days reduced, you might be forgiven for thinking that the future of newspapers was cause for concern for editors and owners.
However, a survey conducted by the Missouri School of Journalism’s Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI) has revealed remarkable levels of optimism in the newsrooms of U.S. daily newspapers – and significant faith in the power of print.
The RJI held telephone interviews with 485 news publishers and senior newspaper executives, who together represent one-third of the daily news titles in the U.S., as part of its annual Publishers Confidence Index. Full details of the report’s findings on the state of print and digital revenues, online news and mobile devices will be released in the coming months but a statement released by the RJI on 13 September attests to the ongoing importance of print publications in an industry widely thought to be preparing for a digital future.
While The Times-Picayune is cutting back its print publication from seven days to three, 77 percent of those questioned said their company had never considered eliminating a day of publication. Of those publishers who could envision a day when print was obsolete (33 percent), 46 percent believed it would happen in 10 to 20 years, 19 percent thought it would happen in less than 10 years and 14 percent could not envisage it occurring "for at least 20 years." Meanwhile 62 percent could not envisage a time when their organisation would not publish a print edition.
When questioned about their thoughts on the future of newspapers, 25 percent of the editors, owners and publishers quizzed by the RJI said they were “very optimistic,” 40 percent were “somewhat optimistic,” 31 percent were “neutral” and only 4 percent were “not optimistic.” There would seem to be a direct correlation between the circulation figures for a newspaper and the degree of optimism its executives had for the future: 83 percent of the publishers who made up the “very optimistic” category were from daily titles with an average of less than 50,000 weekday readers.
Described by the RJI as “the largest survey of its kind,” the report offers an insight into the thoughts of the people leading U.S. newspapers through a time of economic difficulties and a revolutionary digital transition. The responses gathered from a significant portion of the U.S. news industry would seem to indicate that, though certain news outlets like the Times-Picayune and JRC are seeking to experiment with digital opportunities, many are unwilling to abandon thoughts of a print-based future.