New Pew report highlights winning strategies for increasing, diversifying newspaper revenues

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  • February 11, 2013

By Zach Dyer

Amid plummeting print revenues and anemic online ad revenue growth, the U.S. newspaper industry is looking for new revenue streams. A new report from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism examines how four outliers are bucking this trend and offers some lessons for other publications.

Newspapers Turning Ideas into Dollars: Four Success Stories,” released online Monday, Feb. 11, examines the cases of The Naples Daily News, The Deseret News, The Santa Rosa Press Democrat, and The Columbia Daily Herald.

The newspapers’ strategies ranged from re-organizing the sales force at the Daily News; the Press Democrat’s online marketing agency; re-organizing the Deseret News’ editorial line around its audience and strengths; and aggressive experimentation in print and digital media by the Columbia Daily Herald.

Report author Mark Jurkowitz said in a video summary that there is no silver bullet for print media’s woes, but there are three takeaways from these cases for the wider industry: “visionary,” risk-taking leadership, a willingness to change newsroom culture, and insisting on high-quality editorial content.

Interestingly, several of these “success stories” had vibrant print editions where print remained an important—if not the primary—revenue stream. Deseret News’ CEO Clark Gilbert commented that print media is “the crocodile, the prehistoric creature that will shrink, but can survive. The digital business is the mammal, the new life form designed to dominate the future.”

The Pew report went so far as to say “Don’t give up on print” when conditions are favorable in communities like Naples, Fla., where the Daily News’ print circulation is up 20 percent in 2012 over 2011. In July 2012, The Orange County Register’s new publisher implemented a “print-first” strategy earlier this year, investing in more reporters while expanding its print edition in tandem with its online presence.

Columbia’s Daily Herald put out a series of print and digital supplements and magazines ranging from healthy living to real estate and men’s lifestyle.

While the Herald aggressively produced a wide range of niche publications to expand its audience and mitigate print loses, the Deseret News re-organized its reduced newsroom around its core audience and editorial strengths. Owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the media company decided to dive deeply into a narrow focus on family and faith topics to appeal to its core Mormon constituency.

Paywalls, a growing trend for U.S. newspapers, are not prominently featured in the report. Out of the newspapers highlighted in the report only the Columbia Herald had a metered paywall in place. The other three are reportedly considering some kind of online subscription in the future.

The report also highlighted the need for fresh faces in print media to help generate the innovation the industry needs to succeed.

Data for this report originated in “The Search for a New Business Model,” which was released in March 2012 and based on information from 40 newspapers and interviews with 13 newspaper executives.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.