Winnipeg Free Press columnist Dan Lett was the keynote speaker at a conference I attended last week. His topic was The State of Traditional News Media. Lett’s audience was primarily writers, journalism students and communications or public relations officers for businesses and charities. He began by asking us some questions.
“How many of you read at least one newspaper daily?”
Nearly everyone in the room raised their hand.
“How many of you receive a daily newspaper at home or buy one everyday?”
Only a handful of people raised their hands.
“How many of you read the news online?”
Most of the audience put up their hands.
“And how many of you pay to read the news online?”
Only a couple people raised their hands.
That’s when Dan Lett exclaimed, “You’re killing me!”
Lett wanted to illustrate the fact that in 2014 the majority of people who read newspapers regularly expect to do so for free. What that means is that newspaper journalists may not be around much longer. How will they be paid if so few people are buying newspapers? Lett said he gets asked all the time “How much longer will you have a job?”
According to Lett 2008 was the turning point when more people in North America began to get their news for free rather than paying for it. By 2013 more than a third of adults had abandoned newspapers entirely, not even reading them for free. Because newspapers have lost customers they have had to cut staff. Lett told us the New York Times has cut their newsroom staff in half in recent years. With fewer journalists, newspapers can no longer research original stories or do in-depth reporting. Perhaps this is why 40% of all news is about weather, sports and traffic and why most online news sites like the Huffington Post simply copy stories they have bought or taken from newspapers, radio and television news sources.
Lett cited many facts from the Pew Research 2013 State of the Media report that found among other things that newspaper advertising is down by 45% from what it was in 2006. The largest age group still reading a print version newspaper is 65 and over. Some daily papers have gone to publishing only three times a week.
Listening to Lett share those statistics was sobering for the audience especially since some of his listeners earned at least part of their income from traditional print media. It got me wondering about how much longer I might still have my assignment as a newspaper columnist.
Other posts about the conference……