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Read All About It? Don’t Believe Everything

May 17, 2015 8:28 AM | Columns

By Kate Jackman-Atkinson, myWestman


(Newspapers image via Shutterstock)

NEEPAWA, Man. — In 1605, the first newspaper accessible to the general public was published. Since then, year after year, people report a high level of trust in newspapers. The public trusts the stories they read and the ads they see. The industry should have remembered that.

Starting about 10 years ago, there was much hand wringing in the newspaper industry about the future– “Print is dead” the headlines proclaimed. Online, free classified sites were starting to take an ever increasing bite out of newspaper ad revenue. Advertisers began looking at digital ways of reaching their customers. Digital was new and hot and all the kids were talking about it. There was also a general slowdown in the economy and all of these factors combined and hit print media, with its high fixed costs and legacy structure, pretty hard.

Newspapers began reporting on the challenges facing the industry. Pretty soon it was hard to not see a story about falling readership, sagging profits or cutbacks. Other media had jumped on the story too. The print media forgot that we are the public’s most trusted source of news– If they read it in the paper, it must be true. And if that was the case, readers and advertisers began to think that maybe they should migrate to another news or advertising platform, one that wasn’t dying.

Because we are so good at what we do, newspapers turned a market correction into a self-fulfilling prophesy. It was sheer insanity, you wouldn’t see any other industry advertising their challenges on the front page!

So here we are, a decade later, and the industry has undergone changes. We’ve seen consolidation, we’ve seen cutbacks, we will likely never see the classified pages of yesterday. But despite the predictions, newspapers are still here and still printing with ink on paper. Not only that, the industry has also seen growth.

A recent publishers’ survey conducted by publishing guru Kevin Slimp found that about one-third of weekly newspapers saw an increase in advertising revenue in 2014. Likely because research continues to show that newspapers are used to help make purchasing decisions and ads in newspapers continue to be seen as the most trusted form of advertising.

Readership numbers are also strong. The most recent research from the Canadian Community Newspaper Association shows that community newspapers are read by three quarters of Canadians in non-urban centres. With all the ways of getting news, people still turn to their papers for news, information and advertising.

People want to read the paper, even young people want to read the newspaper. According to a Newspapers Canada survey, 85 per cent of Canadian young adults read a newspaper in some format each week. At some universities, students have voted to increase their student fees in order to have access to free copies of local and national papers.

Far from being dead, in the Unites States, new papers are popping up all over. All of them filling a need and providing the quality local news readers want.

The printed newspaper is still how we mark our milestones– births, deaths and everything in between. I don’t go into people’s homes and see printed webpages stuck to fridges or walls nearly as often as I see pages torn from the newspaper. We are relevant.

I don’t disagree that print media got complacent and that it was time for a shake up. In a lot of ways, print media had much in common with the auto makers in the early 2000s, except that newspapers had an even longer history and entrenched way of doing things.

Ten years ago, people weren’t leaving print because of some tectonic shift, they were leaving because it no longer offered them what they wanted. It was easier to blame cultural changes than consider that the product just wasn’t as good as it could be.

Like almost every other industry, we have undergone some significant changes over the last decade, and there will no doubt be more to come in the future. But we are here and we are strong.


Tags: Manitoba