Media Get Very Bad News in New Pew Analysis

In this April 11, 2018, photo, production workers stack newspapers onto a cart at the Janesville Gazette Printing & Distribution plant in Janesville, Wis. (Angela Major/The Janesville Gazette via AP)

WASHINGTON (CN) – The news media saw another decline in audience and revenue last year, though podcasts are still growing, the Pew Research Center reported Tuesday.

Despite growth in subscriptions at The New York Times and Washington Post, newspapers overall are having a hard time.

Tuesday’s Pew report shows that weekday print circulation and digital circulation among the top 50 U.S. daily newspapers decreased in 2018 by 8% to just shy of 29 million subscribers, with Sunday subscribers seeing greater dip at a 9% decrease from 2017.

Weekly circulation has been on a downward spiral since 1989, when it hit more than 62 million subscribers nationwide, and Sunday circulation saw its decrease begin in 1993, after it hit roughly the same number of subscribers.

The report says total advertising revenue in the industry also shrank by 13% in 2018, with newspapers raking in only $14.3 billion compared to an estimate $16.4 billion in 2017. That is a far cry from the $49 billion in advertising revenue seen in 2006, or the $48.6 billion in 2000.

Circulation revenue saw a drop last year as well, though not as pronounced, from $11.2 billion in 2017 to $11 billion in 2018.

Revenue from circulation generally has increased steadily since the 1960s, when it hovered around $1.5 billion to $2 billion. In the 1980s and 1990s it saw a marked increase, rising to more than $30 billion and $47 billion, respectively. But it has not kept pace with inflation over that time.

While Pew concedes digital circulation is harder to track, given that major publications often do not report their full digital circulation numbers, the report suggests newspaper website traffic has leveled off.

Data show the top 50 U.S. daily newspapers saw 11.6 million monthly unique visitors, similar to 11.5 million monthly visitors during the last quarter of 2017 and 11.7 million monthly in 2016.

“We do find that digital circulation has been going up but not enough to reverse the overall downward circulation trend,” said Michael Barthel, a senior researcher at Pew who worked on the report.

Reading attention seems to be lower, too. The average minutes spent per visit to the top 50 newspaper websites was roughly 2 1/3 minutes during the fourth quarter of 2018, down 5% from the same period in 2017.

Minority-oriented stations and publications are not faring much better. Circulation among both paid and free black-oriented newspapers varied but generally are on the decline. Viewership among the two largest Spanish-language television networks in the United States — Univision and Telemundo — also declined, though Univision saw a hit across all of its three national time slots.

One glimmer of good news for the industry is that Telemundo had an increase in its audience during the evening-news time slot.

Traditional radio continues to decline, but online radio and podcasting numbers continue to creep upward, the report found. About two-thirds of Americans at least 12 years old listened to online radio in the past month, compared with 20 percent in 2007, according to data from Edison Research and Triton Digital.

Podcasts also have exploded in the past 10 years. In 2006, only 11% of that demographic had ever listened to a podcast, while last year more than half of Americans in that group had, according to the data.

The increase in podcast listening seems to be across most categories. More than 7 million public radio podcast users, for example, download NPR podcasts weekly, up from about 2 million in 2014.

According to data from Nielsen Media Research, 89 percent of Americans at least 12 years old listened to terrestrial radio in any given week.

“Most people mostly get their news from traditional TV and radio, but now it’s half and half for newspapers whether it’s print or digital,” Barthel said.

Barthel added that national papers generally do better with digital subscriptions than regional or local papers do. “When I think about it, it’s kind of an issue of you can get national news from anywhere, so national pubs have an advantage,” he said. “If it’s a local population, that limits your subscriber base.”

Getting a job in journalism isn’t as attractive, either.

Staffing at newspapers has dropped since 2004, from about 71,000 employees that year to about half that — just under 38,000 — in 2018. Wages have remained largely flat for reporters and editors, hovering around $34,000 a year for the former and $50,000 a year for the latter.

Radio newsrooms have shrunk as well, from about 4,300 employees in 2004 to 3,300 last year, the report found.

The average for radio and podcasting reporters, news analysts and correspondents in 2018 was just below $42,000, compared with $40,000 six years earlier. Editors fare better now, however, making on average about $75,000 in 2018 compared with about $48,000 in 2012.

Some have attributed increased subscriptions at The New York Times and several other newspapers to a “Trump Bump,” due to the repeated criticism by President Trump and the aggressive coverage of those publications of his administration.

But the spike in subscriptions to those publications seems to have slowed significantly over the last year.

Despite local papers shuttering in many communities and mass layoffs at national publications, the dire straits for the news industry is largely unknown by average Joes and Janes. A Pew Research Center report last March found that 7 in 10 Americans believing their local news outlets are doing “very or somewhat well financially.”

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