Newspapers' unmatched credulity about their own future

American Society of News Editors president David Boardman rails against the happy-talk optimism of the newspaper industry, who insist that the decline isn't that bad and will shortly turn around.

But Boardman points out that the newspaper industry's statistics are extremely selective, and their repetition in the press represents a credulous approach to business claims that no other industry gets from the fourth estate. For example, the industry says that newspapers "reach" more than half of US adults, but "reach" means, "is read once a week or more." And those readers are aging out: one major daily had its readers' average age rise from 55 to 60 in 18 months. The future readers of papers "may soon be reading pass-around copies in the nursing home."

Boardman cites Clay Shirky's excellent "Nostalgia and Newspapers," but he's more optimistic than Shirky. Boardman thinks that Sunday papers still hold a place in readers heart, and wants the industry to focus on "a superb, in-depth, last-all-week Sunday (or better yet, Saturday) paper, a publication so big and rich and engaging that readers will devour it piece by piece over many days, and pay a good price for that pleasure."

Some of Boardman's brutal debunking of newspaper industry stats:

What she said: “Total revenue for the multiplatform U.S. newspaper media business amounted to $37.59 billion in 2013.” What she didn’t say: It was a billion dollars more than that in 2012, $2 billion more in 2011, and $12 billion more in 2006. In other words, it’s dropped by a third in seven years and continues to fall with no end in sight.

What she said: “The printed newspaper continues to reach more than half of the U.S. adult population.” What she didn’t say: But the percentage of Americans who routinely read a printed paper daily continues its dramatic decline, and is somewhere down around 25 percent. “Reaching” in Little’s reference can mean those people read one issue in the past week; it doesn’t mean they are regular daily readers of the printed paper.

What she said: “This is not an audience that will be abandoning newspapers anytime soon.” What she didn’t say: But they may soon be reading pass-around copies in the nursing home. I recently learned from internal sources that for one major newspaper, the average age of its daily readers moved from 55 to 60 in just 18 months. What will it be by 2020?

Essay: Hey, Publishers: Stop fooling us, and yourselves [David Boardman/Poynter]

(via Beyond the Beyond)

(Image: Newsies. Isaac Solovitch, 12 years old, David Solovitch, 7 years old. Sell after school until 9-30 or 10 P.M., Lewis Hine, Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons)