Google Ad Sales Double All U.S. Newspapers COMBINED

That’s the most stunning statement in a Brookings Essay “The Bad News about the News” by Robert G. Kaiser, who worked for a half-century as a writer and editor at The Washington Post. He outlines the fundamental problem of the challenge digital presents to “legacy” media:

Overall the economic devastation would be difficult to exaggerate. One statistic conveys its dimensions: the advertising revenue of all America’s newspapers fell from $63.5 billion in 2000 to about $23 billion in 2013, and is still falling. Traditional news organizations’ financial well-being depended on the willingness of advertisers to pay to reach the mass audiences they attracted. Advertisers were happy to pay because no other advertising medium was as effective. But in the digital era, which has made it relatively simple to target advertising in very specific ways, a big metropolitan or national newspaper has much less appeal. Internet companies like Google and Facebook are able to sort audiences by the most specific criteria, and thus to offer advertisers the possibility of spending their money only on ads they know will reach only people interested in what they are selling. So Google, the master of targeted advertising, can provide a retailer selling sheets and towels an audience existing exclusively of people who have gone online in the last month to shop for sheets and towels. This explains why even as newspaper revenues have plummeted, the ad revenue of Google has leapt upward year after year—from $70 million in 2001 to an astonishing $50.6billion in 2013. That is more than two times the combined advertising revenue of every newspaper in America last year. (Emphasis added.)

Some other interesting nuggets:

  • “Twenty years ago classifieds provided more than a third of the revenue of The Washington Post. Craigslist has destroyed that business for the Post and every major paper in the country.”
  • “Newspapers employed 59,000 journalists in 1989, and 36,000 in 2012 (and fewer since then).”

Kaiser’s essay does a good job of outlining the challenges faced by the big media, which is probably its most significant contribution. It’s short on solutions, but then again, that’s the real issue for the established media: if answers were apparent, the financial situation for newspapers would not have deteriorated to the extent he describes.

It’s not exactly cheery reading, but it’s at least a little less depressing than the latest news about Ebola and ISIS. Read the whole essay.

It’s also interesting for me to read this, because much of my early blogging was about trends in media, given my background in media relations. Here are a few related posts over the years:

Or you can browse through all of the related posts here.

Beyond Hyphenation

As enrollment in rural schools declines, smaller communities have been left with no viable alternative but to consolidate their schools with neighboring towns.

Typically this leads to a lot of hyphenated names for the resulting school districts, such as (in our part of Minnesota) Zumbrota-Mazeppa, Elgin-Millville, Dover-Eyota and the like. Sometimes the district comes up with a whole new name for the school, as when Rose Creek, Adams and Elkton combined to become Southland.

I believe my wife Lisa’s home district set the hyphenation record when New Richland-Hartland combined with Ellendale-Geneva to become…you guessed it…New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva, which the sportscasters abbreviate as NRHEG. Sometimes they’ll pronounce each letter, but if they’re in a hurry they just say NURR-heg.

A similar phenomenon has happened over the last half-century in the newspaper business, as competing newspapers in a community combined because neither could sustain themselves economically. So in Minnesota’s largest city the Minneapolis Star and the Minneapolis Tribune, which I remember as separate papers in the 1980s, became the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Likewise in Milwaukee the Journal and the Sentinel became the Journal Sentinel in 1995.

Hyphenated or not, you can probably think of several combo newspapers like this (e.g. Seattle Post-Intelligencer) – feel free to chime in with your examples in the comments.

But what happens when even the combined papers can’t make it? When even hyphenation can’t make the business model work?

We’re seeing that this week with the announcement that the Times-Picayune of New Orleans will be ceasing daily publication in the fall, moving to three days per week: Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

If a metropolitan area of 1.2 million people can’t support a daily print newspaper, that’s a significant milestone in the decline of the traditional newspaper business model. Employee layoffs are coming there, too, which is the continuation of a trend being tracked at Paper Cuts.

As Seth Godin and others have said, newspapers aren’t primarily selling news to subscribers; they’re attracting subscribers and renting their attention to advertisers. The new publishing schedule of the Times-Picayune makes this explicit, as Wednesday is the traditional day for advertising inserts.

With so many choices for consumers in how they will get their news and entertainment, the mainstream media oligopoly is much less profitable than it was a generation ago. Those traditional media players have some built-in advantages. but the barriers to entry that formerly protected them (FCC licenses and the huge amounts of capital needed to buy transmitters or printing presses) are now practically non-existent.

That’s why I have often said:

Don’t just pitch the media. Be the media.

Do pitch the media. Work with the existing outlets as a resource and help them serve their audiences.

But be the media too. If you have a story to tell, you can do it through a blog. And you aren’t just limited to text: you can embed video, audio, slide presentations, photos and other resources. It costs you literally nothing to start.

Have you taken the blogging plunge? If not, why not?


The Chancellor and The Chairman

Earlier this month I had an opportunity to do a live radio interview on short notice with Scott Hennen, who was broadcasting his program from Rochester.

Scott’s program is called The Common Sense Club, of which he is the Chairman. His program airs on AM1100 WZFG in Fargo, North Dakota.

Scott sent me the audio link to the interview, in which he explains why he was in Rochester to do his program.

I hope you enjoy it.

On Kids and Social Network Privacy

Yesterday I was contacted by Mary Brophy Marcus of USA Today for comment and perspective related to a survey of parents and teens on online privacy. I’ve included an excerpt of the resulting article below:

Three out of four parents (75%) say they would negatively rate the job social networks are doing, according to the survey of more than 2,000 parents and 400 teens by Common Sense Media, a national nonprofit organization focused on helping kids and families negotiate the social media galaxy.

“American families are deeply worried. Privacy is a huge concern,” said James Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense Media, who wants to see lawmakers update online privacy policies.

Steyer says the industry alone will never protect the privacy interests of children.

“Obviously we’re going to need updated online privacy laws which haven’t been changed since 1998, which is like Medieval, centuries ago. We need to put heavy pressure on the industry,” he says.

While the survey indicated that most parents (70%) think schools should play a role in educating students about protecting their privacy online, social media experts feel families should shoulder the responsibility, too.

“I don’t know whether it’s in the schools that education needs to happen, but it has to happen,” says Lee Aase, director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media, in Rochester, Minn. “So much burden is on the schools. Some of this needs to happen in the families.”

Aase, a father of six children ranging in age from 11 to 24, says privacy tools are already in place that people are just not taking advantage of. He says there is immense power to punish bad behavior, including blocking people on Twitter and unfriending them on Facebook. You can also report abuses directly to Facebook.

“If someone’s really bothering or hassling you, you have the ability to stop them from communicating,” Aase says.

I also suggested, as indicated in the close of the article, that parents being friends with their kids on Facebook is an important safeguard, but also an important way to stay in touch.

A few additional thoughts and some background:

“Make the schools do it” is a cop-out. My dad was an elementary principal and then a school board member. He sensitized me to how often “make the schools do it” is the first “solution” offered to whatever perceived problem society faces. I don’t see training kids in online privacy protection as a core responsibility for public schools. I think it’s fine if some local districts decide they want to make it part of their curriculum, but with everything else they have to do, I don’t see this as the only (or best) way to deal with kids’ privacy online.

The schools aren’t the only place education happens. As SMUGgles know, learning online is cost-effective and interactive. And it scales. Unlike a traditional classroom in which a high student-teacher ratio makes learning more difficult, more people involved in an online environment improves the course quality, because learners get the benefit of others’ comments, questions and answers. And if we’re learning about online privacy, wouldn’t it seem that online would be the right context in which to learn?

Organizations concerned about privacy should provide great and engaging online curriculum for students and their parents. Most people read Terms of Use and Privacy Policy documents as thoroughly as a Mac user does software manuals (a bit of self-deprecating humor, there.) An organization with a passion for privacy could do a lot more good by creating online learning resources for teachers and parents.

By the way, with our Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media and the related Social Media Health Network we will be developing resources and training materials for patients and medical professionals to provide education on privacy settings and practices for those using social media tools in the medical context.

What do you think? Are online privacy laws hopelessly antiquated? Or is the main problem that people don’t take advantage of the privacy options most sites already have incorporated? How big is the online privacy problem? Is this a “huge concern” that has you “deeply worried” or is it a something you think is relatively well managed? What would you do about it?