For newspapers struggling to survive in a declining industry, audience development has often been put on the back burner as just surviving becomes the focal point for many publishers. Online media irreparably changed journalism in how it’s distributed, consumed and marketed. As demographic swings and declining ad revenue continue to batter the industry, it becomes even more important to reach new readers – and for the creative thinker, there are plenty of avenues to do just that.
The Grim Reality
Newspaper circulation peaked in 1994 – the year before the Internet changed the world. Back then, nearly 64 percent of American households had a newspaper subscription. Now, that number is around one in three. The overwhelming majority of adults don’t subscribe to newspapers – either print or online – and the ones who do are old and getting older. There is no indication that either trend will stop. An extraordinary number of competitors, from online aggregates to social media, have boxed out newspapers – and their dwindling revenues – even further. For many publishers, audience development has taken a back seat to merely staying afloat. There are plenty of areas, however, which old-school papers can adapt to a brave new world.
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Digitize and Catalog Archives
Newspapers represent a clear and direct link to the past – to the history of a town, a community, a country. As all information becomes instant, bite-sized and derived from an ever-expanding barrage of scattered outlets, the continuity and historical perspective offered by newspapers is disappearing – and longed for. A newspaper’s vast, deep archives are a rare and unique tool that a media outlet founded online in 2006 simply doesn’t have at its disposal. There is infinite room for audience outreach as media consumers become more and more hungry for a bridge to a fading past. There are big revenue possibilities as well – a well cataloged, easily accessible, digitized archive can be sold a la carte to those who only need piecemeal access.
There was a time in the not-so-distant past that old-guard journalists thumbed their nose at anything digital – specifically blogging. The word itself conjured images of amateurs in their parents’ basement, playing Woodward and Bernstein without leaving the house. The fact is, blogging is extraordinarily popular (see: WordPress) and can be profitable. Although the tightrope walk between hard news and punditry must be maintained, your City Hall reporter, may also double as your City Hall blogger. First, reporting the news, then blogging about how it went down in a behind-the-scenes scoop that consumers in the age of reality TV crave.
Audience outreach is not something that publishers should focus on when they’re done figuring out how to survive. It’s something that they should focus on if they want to survive. New-age competition is fierce and intimidating, but newspapers have at their disposal an extraordinary range of weapons, from history to credibility to, well, journalists. They need to change their strategies if they want to change their ink from red to black.