HARPER: Study tracks news media’s challenges

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Digital tablets and smartphones provide about the only good news for the media in the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism’s “State of the Media: 2013,” which was released this week.

It’s not that Pew should be blamed. The past 10 years of reports have provided great insights that few have followed.

Here’s the good news: The growth in the news audience in 2012 came on digital platforms, and the proliferation of digital devices in people’s lives seemed to be a significant reason.

In 2012, total traffic for the top 25 online news sites increased 7.2 percent. Pew Research found 39 percent of respondents got news online or from a mobile device within the past day, an increase of 34 percent from two years ago.

An estimated 31 percent of U.S. adults own a tablet computer — almost four times the number two years ago. Pew researchers report that nearly two-thirds of tablet owners said they get news on their devices weekly, while more than one-third do so on a daily basis. Web-enabled smartphones are even more widespread: About 45 percent of adults owned a smartphone, up from 35 percent in 2011. Again, roughly two-thirds of those surveyed got news via their smartphones weekly and a third daily.

“Accessing news is one of the most popular uses for the devices, enabling Americans to get news whenever they want and wherever they might be,” the Pew study concludes.

All media outlets must find a way to deliver quality content, particularly to tablets. Smartphones are mainly used for quick information, such as sports scores and headlines, while tablets target the market for longer stories and better advertising prospects. That means creating applications for both or using HTML5. Neither is an inexpensive solution, but a necessary one.

Overall, digital advertising grew 17 percent in 2012 to $37.3 billion, according to eMarketer, which amounts to nearly a quarter of the total U.S. advertising market.

Here is the tipping point, however, for the news media. Facebook and Google represent a significant part of that advertising, with services that enable the search of free news media for their users.

Facebook and Google also have moved quickly into the mobile realm. Pew found that mobile ads grew 80 percent in 2012 to $2.6 billion, or roughly 7 percent of total digital ad spending. Media industry watchers expect this advertising area to hit 21 percent of the total market in the next three years.

News organizations have allowed Facebook, Google and other search engines the ability to obtain news and information at virtually no cost. Pew found that nearly one-third of more than 1,300 newspapers have put up a pay wall or plan to do so — an excellent idea to guard quality content. Most broadcast outlets still provide the material for free. If news organizations do not protect their content, Google News will be the dominant news source for years to come.

News outlets must force the search engines to pay for the content — just as the recording industry enforced copyright protections for music on the Web. Otherwise, Facebook and Google will make money off the backs of news operations throughout the country. It is time for the media to seize their news from search engines or lose the game entirely.

The entire report can be found at stateofthemedia.org/2013/.

And in a follow-up to last week’s column on CNN: Many people were outraged at the network’s “sympathetic” coverage toward two teenagers convicted of rape in Steubenville, Ohio, over the weekend. Read about the latest controversy at huff.to/Wz05Ls.

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