June 1, 2017

The Pew Research Center today offered new and telling data points on the continuing financial decline of the newspaper business and a banner year in 2016 for their cable competitors.

A fact sheet documents concurrent declines last year in newspaper organizations’ paid circulation, advertising (down 10 percent compared to 2015) and news staffing. The outlets are making progress on the digital side of their business but that falls well short of a turnaround.

Conversely, cable cashed in bigly on the presidential election year and Trump transition in every dimension on which their business can be measured. Specifically, Pew reports:

  • Combined prime-time average viewership for the three major cable news channels (CNN, Fox News and MSNBC) increased by 55 percent to 4.8 million viewers. Daytime (6 a.m. to 6 p.m.) average viewership also grew — up 36 percent over the previous year.
  • Total revenue across these three channels was projected to increase by 19 percent in 2016, to a total of nearly $5 billion. The three major financial networks (CNBC, Fox Business and Bloomberg) saw increases in total and license fee revenue, while ad revenue was flat.
  • Fox News, MSNBC and CNN were all projected to have grown their profits in 2016, registering a combined increase of 29 percent.
  • In 2016, the three major cable news channels increased their overall newsroom spending by a combined 9 percent, to $2.1 billion, according to projections by SNL Kagan. The three major financial networks were projected to (have increased) their newsroom spending by 6 percent, to $682 million.

The report is a reduced version of the annual State of the News Media project Pew has been producing since 2004. This year, there is no accompanying narrative. Reports on other sectors will come later. And the fact sheets link to other industry reports Pew has produced over the course of the year.

I was lead author of the newspaper chapter for the first 10 years of State of the News Media — often a lengthy summary and (sign of then vs. now) was first among the sectors covered.

Over the years, newspaper groups have stopped producing statistics on advertising, circulation and staffing. As former NAA president Caroline Little conceded candidly that had become an exercise “in beating ourselves up.”

These days researcher Michael Barthel painstakingly creates estimates drawn from projections from public company reports and a variety of other sources. Barthel found:

  • Estimated total U.S. daily newspaper circulation (print and digital combined) in 2016 was 35 million for weekday and 38 million for Sunday, both of which fell 8 percent over the previous year. Declines were highest in print circulation. Weekday print circulation decreased 10 percent, and Sunday decreased 9 percent. Digital circulation is more difficult to gauge, but is projected to have been roughly steady, with weekday down 1 percent and Sunday up 1 percent.
  • The total estimated newspaper industry advertising revenue for 2016 was $18 billion… This is a decrease of 10 percent from 2015. Total estimated circulation revenue was $11 billion, roughly on par with 2015.
  • Digital advertising accounted for 29 percent of total newspapers advertising revenue in 2016. This is up from a quarter in 2015 and 17 percent in 2011.
  • According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Survey (OES) in 2015 (the last year available) 41,400 people worked as reporters or editors in the newspaper industry. This is down 4 percent from 2014 and 37 percent from 2004.

Fortune writer Mathew Ingram offered a brief but mordant commentary on the new Pew numbers with an assist by another graphically inclined tweeter:

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Rick Edmonds is media business analyst for the Poynter Institute where he has done research and writing for the last fifteen years. His commentary on…
Rick Edmonds

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