by Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics & Public Policy, http://www.ksg.harvard.edu/presspol, August 20, 2007
A report released on August 16, 2007 by Harvard University's Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics & Public Policy details the effects of Internet redistribution of news audiences. The report is entitled "Creative Destruction: An Exploratory Look at News on the Internet." The report's "headline" finding is that while the websites of nationally known newspapers including the New York Times, Washington Post, and USA Today are gaining audience, those of newspapers lacking a substantial national audience are idling or losing audience.
The Shorenstein Center report's findings stand in contrast to data presented by the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) and other industry groups suggesting that online newspaper readership is trending up because online newspaper readership continues to grow. The NAA does not distinguish between national "brand name" newspapers and non-national online newspaper readership in citing its data. The Shorenstein Center report indicates that while online newspaper readership is indeed growing overall, citing this increase by itself fails to tell the story of non-"brand name" newspapers seeing decreases in online readership that are being offset by the gains of more visible papers.
The report was prepared by Thomas E. Patterson, Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Like the cable and broadcast revolutions, the Internet revolution is redistributing the news audience in ways that has and will continue to benefit some news outlets, while harming others, according to a research report released today by the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Based on an examination of traffic to 160 websites over a year-long period, the research found that traffic to newspaper-based sites has leveled off. The overall traffic level, however, hides important differences within the newspaper sector. The web sites of nationally known newspapers—the New York Times, Washington Post, and USA Today—are gaining audience. On average, their site traffic increased by 10 percent over the past year. In contrast, the websites of most other newspapers—whether in large, medium-sized, or small cities—have lost audience. Their sites on average have substantially fewer visitors now than a year ago.
The websites of national “brand name” television networks, such as CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, and Fox, experienced increased traffic during the past year. In fact, their traffic increase exceeded 30 percent on average. The websites of local commercial television and radio stations also gained audience, though at a slower pace than that of the “brand names.”
The biggest gains in audience occurred among the non-traditional news providers. The sites of search engines, service providers, aggregators, and bloggers grew faster on average than the sites of traditional news providers, whether print, broadcast, or cable. The sites of Google, Yahoo, AOL, and MSN, along with sites such as newsvine.com, topix.net, digg.com and reddit.com, saw large increases in traffic during the past year.
The Web particularly threatens daily newspapers. They were among the first to post news on the Internet but their initial advantage has all but disappeared in the face of increased competition from electronic media and non-traditional providers. The Internet is also a larger threat to local news organizations than those with national reputations. Because it reduces the influence of geography on people’s choice of a news source, the Internet inherently favors “brand names”—those relatively few news organizations that readily come to mind by Americans everywhere when they seek news on the Internet.
Although the increase in Web traffic to the sites of non-traditional news providers is a threat to traditional news organizations, the latter do have strengths they can leverage on the Web. Local news organizations are “brand names” within their communities, which can be used to their advantage. Their offline audience reach can also be used effectively to drive traffic to their sites. Most importantly, they have a product—the news—that is in public demand. Ironically, some news organizations do not feature the day’s news prominently on their websites, forgoing their natural advantage.