Print journalism is shrinking as digital gains strength

By Brittanie Chludzinski 

I’m sure any journalism student can relate when I say this: I’ve heard my fair share of negative outlooks on the industry from friends, family and even professors throughout the last four years.

“Journalism is a shrinking industry.”

“Are you sure you want to take that route? It might be difficult to find a job after graduation.”

And the most common piece of criticism: “Newspapers are disappearing.”

As a sophomore gaining my first real-world journalism experience at the State News, I thought otherwise. People were reading and sharing my work, and I was just starting to find my voice as a writer. It was empowering. In my mind, newspaper was doing just fine. My work was being published and viewed by an audience, and that’s all there was too it, right?

As a senior, I now understand how naïve I once was. In the midst of a new digital era, it’s incredibly important to stay up-to-date on changes and trends in the industry. Despite my current understanding of these digital changes, I was surprised to learn just how significant the implications are on today’s media – specifically on print journalism.

According to the Pew Research Center’s State of the News Media 2016, newspaper employment has dropped by 39 percent over the last 20 years – that’s equivalent to 20,000 positions that have been eliminated to cut costs among falling ad revenue. By viewing this workforce reduction from different perspectives, we can gain further insight on the momentum of this disappearing industry. In just 10 short years (from 2004 to 2014), 126 daily newspapers have shut down. Additionally, the nine publicly traded newspaper companies present in 2014 have become seven companies today as a result of a “wave of consolidation.”

The main reason for the merging and disappearing newspapers is obvious and simple: Newspapers are continuing to receive more web traffic than print subscribers. Despite this fact, it’s interesting to learn that 51 percent of individuals who self-report reading a newspaper most commonly read it in print form. I was initially shocked by this statistic until I took a step back to understand the complexity of assessing changes for print journalism when digital continues to dominate.

As this Pew Research Center article explores and questions, is it fair that one-time visitors who find their news on Facebook and Twitter may be measured comparable to a loyal subscriber who spends hours on the website each day? Additionally, how does this influence our own understanding of the changing strengths and weaknesses of today’s print journalism? It’s certainly a slippery slope. As readers move to these new digital spaces, traditional print newspapers have no choice but to follow.

I never thought I would see tangible, print newspapers become obsolete in my lifetime, but this data is persuading me otherwise. According to this same Pew Research Center article, 39 of the 50 newspapers examined from 2014-2015 saw a drop in desktop visitors, while 43 of the 50 saw an increase in unique visitors on mobile devices. In an interesting contrast, time spent reading news on mobile devices dropped for 34 of the 50 newspapers despite the increase in visitors.

This significant shift to mobile devices alone demonstrates that the end to print journalism may be closer than we anticipated. Additionally, the decrease in time spent on mobile devices led me to think about the incredible abundance of content and information competing for views every single day. As more readers gather news on social media and more content becomes available in these digital spaces, I’m interested to see the decisions that newspapers make to find balance and stay afloat. Will individual apps and digital subscriptions be enough to save these publications or will they have to make unprecedented decisions to maintain influence?

I supposed only time will tell.























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