The funny thing about data, big or small, is that with the right lens, you can see just about anything you want.
In an article headlined “Newspaper publishers remain optimistic about future of their industry,” my beloved and esteemed Reynolds Journalism Institute announced the results the second annual Publishers Confidence Index, a study of more than 400 publishers conducted by Michael M. Jenner for RJI and the Missouri School of Journalism. Despite undisputed evidence that the newspaper industry has been profoundly and unreversibly disrupted by technology, changing demographics, and modern business models, “an overwhelming majority of publishers in a recent survey — 69 percent — expressed optimism about the future of their business,” the article reported.
Even the article’s opening line citing “sharp revenue declines over the last five years” doesn’t dampen publishers’ enthusiasm for the business. Only 6 percent of those surveyed said they were not optimistic about their futures, an uptick in downtrodden attitudes of just 2 points over last year’s survey.
What makes these publishers so enthusiastic about their future? It seems that the “full package,” as one respondent called it, of digital media gives them reasons to smile. In other words, the newspaper business is finding joy in all the things they do that are not the newspaper business.
Maybe I’m splitting hairs. After all, any serious media organization stocks its newsroom with journalists and those journalists can be just as productive reporting and writing for Web pages, mobile apps, and Twitter feeds as they are for those big, inky printing presses. But that’s kind of not what the survey revealed. When asked “Do you ever see a time coming when your organization will no longer publish a print edition?” a shocking 58% of publishers answered no. Nor are these optimistic publishers even considering cut backs in frequency as their audiences shift from analog to digital media consumption. “The vast majority (79 percent) said they had not considered such a move in the coming year,” the report noted, while only 21% said they already had reduced or were considering reducing frequency.
As I look at the trend lines in consumption, the shifting of advertising revenue from print to digital formats, the rising entrepreneurship of journalists, and the sorry-thin editions of the metro papers that land at the end of my driveway each morning, I see little reason for optimism in the newspaper business. In fact, if I owned a news print factory, I’d be desperate to unload it right about now.
Even the 36% of publisher who see the same handwriting on the wall as I do, see a longer arc in print’s final days. Nearly half (48%) said the “end of print” was more than 10 years in the future.
While I might question the judgment and leadership of these optimistic publisher who apparently choose to ignore the disruption around them, I am optimistic that a growing number of publisher are recognizing – even if they don’t put it in these words – that their organizations are transforming from one output media to another. From print to digital. The journalism will stay the same, and perhaps improve with new digital and social technology; the output and the business models that support that news will be different.