What print’s transition to digital means for PR

Although an audit of U.S. newspapers shows readership is declining altogether, online news consumption is up. This shift suggests a few points for industry pros to note.

The digital age and pay walls are finally taking hold at the nation’s largest newspapers, bringing new life to an industry struggling to reinvent itself.

For the world of PR, the figures released Wednesday by the Alliance for Audited Media means that our industry can still try to pitch news outlets with more of a focus on digital editions, but probably with the same limited success.

The pronounced move to digital news means the newspapers aren’t hamstrung by newsprint costs and will have more space to write the news. The problem remains, however, that newspaper staffs are shrinking, and that means fewer reporters covering news.

The Alliance for Audited Media reported that daily readership of U.S. newspapers altogether declined 0.7 percent in the six-month period from a year earlier, while Sunday editions, which draw the most advertising dollars, were down 1.4 percent.

The most promising news angle in the report is that more people are reading news online, which accounts for 19 percent of total circulation, compared with 14 percent the year before. The AAM’s daily circulation figures include people who read the paper on a range of devices.

The company also is being helped by relatively new reporting rules at the AAM that let publishers count subscribers multiple times if they read a paper on different devices.

The audit showed The New York Times replaced USA Today in second place with a circulation of 1,865,318—a 17.6 percent rise from a year ago. USA Today circulation was down 7.9 percent, dropping to 1,674,306. The Wall Street Journal has the highest circulation (2,378,827), a 12.3 percent jump from the same time the year before.

A couple of points about the ongoing digital shift and what it means to PR:

• Put the term “newspaper clipping services” into the time capsule, along with fax machines and press conferences;

• More news sites will set up pay walls instead of giving away news for free, making it harder to track news subjects and specific reporters;

• Competing sites will figure out how to offer news products free, without the overhead of newsroom, and that will open up more outlets for PR;

USA Today, long seen as the gold standard for the future of journalism, might need to reinvent how to sell its product;

• PR will continue struggle to show results, primarily quality versus quantity in terms of media results based on number of eyeballs.

Gil Rudawsky heads the crisis communication and issues management practice at GroundFloor Media in Denver. He is a former reporter and editor. Read his blog or contact him at grudawsky@groundfloormedia.com.


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