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Newspapers are dying? Not so fast

Have you heard the news? Newspapers are dying.

Media corporation Gannett, owners of the Des Moines Register, announced more layoffs earlier this week. In all, 700 Gannett employees, including a reported 13 at the Register, lost their jobs. The news prompted a whole new round of hand-wringing about the imminent demise of the daily newspaper. Newspapers are on their way out within five years, people say.

This is not a new concept.

In fact, newspapers have been “dying” for almost a century now. In the 1930s, the rise of radio caused people to proclaim that newspapers were old news, doomed to extinction. How could they compete with a “live” format? Then, in the 1950s the rise of broadcast television once again brought out talk of the demise of newspapers. Who wants to read news when they can watch it brought to life through video images?

By the 1990s, the rise of the Internet surely spelled doom, many said, for the slow-footed dinosaur that was daily newspapers. And those calls have grown even louder in recent years as social media like Facebook and Twitter have risen to prominence. Who needs media when we can get information and photos directly from our friends, neighbors and ... er ... politicians?

Yet, through all the constant pronouncements of the demise of newspapers, we’re still here. And the funny thing is we’re reaching a broader, larger audience than ever, thanks largely to the very same Internet that many believed would kill newspapers.

Consider that, according to research by the Newspaper Association of America, newspaper websites across America had more than 108 million unique viewers in the first quarter of this year — nearly two-thirds of all adult web users in the country. Can any other industry claim to reach such a broad audience?

That’s not even accounting for newspaper consumers who still rely solely on the printed product. A huge majority of Americans use newspapers, either via the physical paper, through our web-based medium or both.

The Newton Daily News is no exception to this phenomenon. Content from the Daily News reaches more people today than at any point in its entire history. Thanks to our website, mobile site and new tablet-friendly site — not to mention the good ol’ physical paper — the Newton Daily News is available however consumers want to receive it and, in turn, our audience has grown.

Newspapers are not a dying industry — though it is certainly true that newspapers are changing.

Consumers clearly want the content newspapers generate. Increasingly, consumers want that content delivered in a digital form. The real challenge for newspapers isn’t a loss of interest from the consumer, it’s figuring out how to make money off of digital formats.

That’s the trillion-dollar question in our industry right now: Can newspapers monetize the huge increases in viewership online even as fewer people choose to pick up a physical paper?

As an industry we haven’t completely figured this out yet, and that’s why we keep reading stories about layoffs, like those at Gannett this week. Layoffs only add to the perception that newspapers are slowly dying, even when that’s not the case.

Roughly four years ago, CBS Sunday Morning came through Newton working on a national story and stopped by the Daily News. One of the crew asked us, in complete seriousness, if we thought our paper would still exist in five years. At the time, it would seem, the notion was that all newspapers were about five years away from shutting down for good.

Five years, huh?

Hey, that must be right. After all, people have been saying that for 80-plus years now.

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