SAGE ADVICE: To Meet Web Challenge, A Newspaper Overhaul

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By: Leo J. Shapiro and Steve Yahn

Consumers who get breaking news from the Internet in a seven-day period are more likely to read a local newspaper during the same period, according to our Leo J. Shapiro and Associates national studies in the U.S.

This data suggests that a consumer who gets breaking news online about an event chooses to read a newspaper in order to learn greater details and consequences of that event.

Between April 2005 and March 2006, our surveys find that the percent of consumers getting breaking news from the Internet increased to 36 percent from 28 percent. This actually bodes well for newspaper readership. In fact, these same surveys find local newspaper readership increased two points, to 74 percent from 72 percent, in this same period.

Audience statistics as well as audited figures on paid circulation provided by the newspapers to advertisers do not provide a clear guide as to what is actually happening. While no one knows for sure, our research shows that major — and at times counterintuitive — shifts are occurring in consumer use of conventional media as the use of the Internet develops.

So although use of the Internet for news is associated with an increase in local newspaper readership, according to our April 2005 national survey, use of the Internet in seven or more different ways is associated with a decline in readership of local newspapers and watching television news during a seven-day period — and an increase in reading a national newspaper, a national news magazine, or a local business journal.

In addition to using e-mail, half (51 percent) of the people we surveyed search the Internet for information, a third (35 percent) monitor the Internet for breaking news, a quarter (25 percent) find out about movies, 20 percent get information about television shows, 17 percent shop for housing, 15 percent look for things to buy or sell, 13 percent look for work, ten percent read blogs, and nine percent search for coupons to clip.

BOTTOM LINE

The information we have gathered suggests that newspapers need to restructure the manner in which they measure readership, the way in which they report the news, and the channels used to distribute newspaper content. Specifically:

— Business managers should provide advertisers with reliable, detailed, up-to-date audience data that can be used to delineate target audiences and construct schedules to reach them efficiently. Our work with a wide range of media buyers find that they regard audience data from newspapers to be inferior to audience data provided by television and other competitive media.

— Editors should assume that their readers are aware of events in progress and are turning to the newspaper to learn about their details and implications. In the world of the Internet, newspapers need to be edited as if they were daily magazines.

— Circulation managers should develop additional channels for distributing the news so as to secure full value for all the content newspapers can generate. For instance, consideration might be given to adapting and adopting the Chinese practice of bao ting — posting newspapers where they can be read by pedestrians who tend to be young, open to change, and on the move.

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