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Newspapers are changing, but Pew study highlights Deseret News success

By Keith McCord | Posted - Mar 3rd, 2013 @ 10:15pm

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SALT LAKE CITY — The first thing a lot of people do each morning is to shuffle out to the driveway to pick up the morning paper. It's been going on for years. Still, fewer people are doing that these days.

Instead, they are relying on digital means — desktops, laptops, tablets and phones — to get a dose of the day's news off the Internet. The digital age has threatened the livelihood of the legacy newspaper industry, and publishers nationwide are scrambling to figure out new revenue streams.

It's no secret that the traditional newspaper has suffered. Many have been put out of business and others have cut back just to try to stay alive. Last week, the Salt Lake Tribune made a dramatic cut by reducing the Monday paper from five sections to just two in an effort to reduce costs, they said.

While the future of the Tribune is not clear, what is clear is that the business model for all papers is changing.

A study released last month by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism examined four newspapers which have experienced significant revenue losses during the past decade, including the Deseret News. Researcher Mark Jurkowitz said each of the papers, in different ways, essentially threw out the traditional business model and reinvented it.

"They've really restructured their whole media strategy here," Jurkowitz said regarding the Deseret News, "and they've created a completely separate digital business side, and they took their print newspaper, which went through significant layoffs in 2010, and they basically completely rebranded it to change their focus from general interest to six categories of issues around faith and family."


The strategy appears to be paying off. The Deseret News was the second fastest growing paper in the country last year, with digital and national growth pushing circulation to new heights.

"The Deseret News in its coverage of family and faith can own that conversation in the way that the Washington Post owns the conversation about national politics," said Deseret News Editor Paul Edwards.

With so much information coming at us every minute on the web and social media, the Deseret News is hoping that its strategy to focus on specific subjects will attract additional readers.

"In the world of the web, you're one click away from what's best in the world," Edwards said. "So we're making the audacious bet that we can be best in the world at some of these areas that we've staked out."

Why must traditional newspapers change how they do business? Consider this: In 1950, newspaper advertising revenues were about $20 billion nationally. That skyrocketed to more than $60 billion around the year 2000. Today, it's back down to 1950 levels. So, newspapers must find new sources of revenue.

"I think the big change is that newspapers won't have the high revenue margins that they used to," said Salt Lake Tribune editor Nancy Conway. "That's a thing of the past."

Though not part of the Pew Research study, the Salt Lake Tribune is also making some adjustments. To save on newsprint costs, the paper has reduced the size of its Monday edition because readership is higher online than in print that day.

"And where we can conserve in print, we do," she said.

In the world of the web, you're one click away from what's best in the world. So we're making the audacious bet that we can be best in the world at some of these areas that we've staked out.

–Deseret News Editor Paul Edwards

The Pew study points out that many newspaper companies have said that replacing the losses in print advertising revenues with new digital revenues was proving a bigger hurdle than first thought.

"It's been a huge challenge for everyone in the industry," said Deseret Digital Media President Chris Lee. "Everyone is asking that same question: 'How do you have great journalism and find a model that pays for that'?"

Both the Tribune and the Deseret News continue to look for and create new advertising opportunities, in both print and digital — but there's no blueprint.

"So it's still guess work," Conway said. "The digital online world is still a fickle world. It changes very rapidly."

"The key is adaptation — we have a good strategy but we're adaptable as well," Edwards said.

In a letter sent to his shareholders, billionaire investor Warren Buffett devoted several pages explaining why he's investing in newspapers. Buffett said newspapers with a strong following and a "sensible internet strategy" will remain viable for a long time.

He went on to say that "skimpy news coverage will almost certainly lead to skimpy readership."

As for that newspaper in the driveway? In the future, it may be in a different format than it is now, but not many believe it'll be going away anytime soon.

"So, I think a change, certainly, but we're not going into extinction," Conway said.


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