When newsrooms are seeing layoffs it's hard to argue that this is a good time for the news business. But the opportunities lie one step beyond the challenges.
Start with changes in news habits. Just a decade ago surveys from the Pew Research Center said network news broadcasts were a habit for 6 out of 10 people. Now it's 3 out of 10. For newspapers, it's 4 out of 10.
A newspaper or newscast might not occupy the same part of your day, but no one now needs a set time. Cable TV has more news than ever. And news is always online. The Web site that employs me didn't even exist 10 years ago. Now one-quarter of adults say they check online news at least three days a week.
How does this play out? In 1994, just under half of adults, 49 percent, said they read a newspaper the day before. In 2004, that figure was 42 percent. But almost invariably, they meant a newspaper in print. That 24 percent reading news on the Web were talking mostly about newspaper Web sites.
Combine newspapers, broadcast TV, cable TV and online news, and the total news audience, which was 90 percent 10 years ago, hasn't changed much. Surveys show us devoting more time to shopping, excercising, watching DVDs, and keeping up with the news too. So journalists remain very much in the news business. Just not necessarily in the newspaper business.
If the media universe is expanding, there has to be more money in it, right? Not exactly. When the economy is sluggish, there's less advertising money floating around. And newspaper web sites don't draw the ad dollars of the newsstand version. Print advertising brings in $1 a day for every reader; online ads, 6 or 7 cents. With that sudden influx of online readers, whoever reverses that online revenue ratio will make a ton of money.
For now, newspapers are still stuffed with ads. The Web, not so much. And it's a more competitive arena. Your newspaper dot-com reading may start at Google or Yahoo or your favorite political blog. All of them, even the blogs, are looking for advertising. Not this blog of course. If you're looking for news, what are you doing here?