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6 misconceptions about the future of newspapers

The newspaper industry is dead. That has become conventional wisdom. Thereís just two problems with that statement. The newspaper business has had its obituary written twice before Ė once during the advent of radio, then a second time during the advent of television. Neither proved true. Still, misconceptions persist about newspapers and their future. Here are six of the biggest falsehoodsÖ

The newspaper industry is dead. That has become conventional wisdom among the American populace.

There are just two problems with that statement. The newspaper business has had its obituary written twice before Ė once during the advent of radio, then a second time during the advent of television. Neither proved true. There are still thousands of newspapers rolling off printing presses to this day.

Not only did newspapers survive both of those innovations, the business thrived in their aftermath. Itís still not unusual for newspapers to run enviable profit margins of 15 percent or higher. Weekly business newspapers have routinely racked up profit margins greater than 30 percent.

Granted, the internet poses the biggest challenge yet to newspapersí economic viability because it is a convergent technology capable of integrating and delivering all forms of media. The internet channels audio, video and text. But thatís no reason to count newspapers out.

All of this had led to many misconceptions about newspapers and their future, and the false conclusion that newspapers have no future. Here are six common misconceptions, why they are false and why newspapers will continue to be an essential part of our media mix for many decades to come.

1.††† Print is dead. Like so many areas of our lives, we wrongly judge the world solely by the American experience. While print circulation is shrinking in the United States, the story is very different in places like India and other countries with emerging economies. According to statistics published by Voice of America, the daily newspaper count in India has risen to nearly 2,000 with a combined circulation of 80 million copies. The number of dailies has increased by 25 percent in just 10 years. Add weekly and monthly newspapers and the total is more than 62,000 titles. Itís also important to remember that print is still a technology with some distinct advantages over electronic formats. You can read a newspaper or magazine in all kinds of light, and they never run out of battery power or require an electrical outlet. When youíre done reading you can hand your newspaper off to another reader or simply leave it behind and walk away unencumbered. Whenís the last time you saw somebody leave their Kindle, nook or Apple iPad on a park bench or train seat?

2.††† The internet will replace newspapers. On the contrary, newspapers are actually one of the primary drivers of internet activity. Google News and Yahoo News, two of the biggest news sites on the internet, are simply aggregators of newspaper articles. Twitter and other Social Media sites are loaded with referrals and links to interesting and important newspaper articles. Bloggers use newspaper stories as grist for their mills. Newspapers themselves have some of the most highly-trafficked venues on the web, including the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal sites. Newspapers ink-stained fingerprints are all over the internet.

3.††† People donít read anymore. Another falsehood. Ironically, more people are reading newspaper stories than ever before, even as U.S. newspapers suffer declining print circulation. Young people in particular are reading online and reading in big numbers. People are glued to their computers and handheld devices reading aggressively. More people than ever are writing are also writing. Tens of millions of blogs have been created and millions have adopted the writing life. Millions of others who donít have their own blogs write several times a day on Social Media sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

4.††† Newspapers can be replaced by bloggers. As I alluded to earlier, many bloggers rely on newspapers and other publications for subject matter. They would be out of business without newspapers. Bloggers do almost no reporting because news gathering is an expensive and time-consuming activity. Few people make a living wage by blogging and therefore cannot commit the time required to do actual news gathering, writing and editing on a scale or pace that newspapers do. Bloggers make many valuable contributions to the national conversation and information output, but they are a world away from newspapers.

5.††† Newspapers donít get the internet. Newspapers flooded the internet en masse years ago and are fueling much of its activity. They have made wholesale changes in accordance with internet culture and have integrated themselves into Twitter, Facebook and other Social Media sites. Their sites are optimized for search engines and they are delivering content through every available channel. Newspapers also maintain many blogs that are exceptional in that they do original reporting. There are even very popular internet-only newspapers like Salon, Slate and The Daily Beast. Newspapers get it.

6.††† We donít need newspapers anymore. We were all taught in school that newspapers are indispensable to a democratic form of government. It might sound like a platitude but itís true. If newspapers didnít exist who or what would blow the whistle on government malfeasance and corporate corruption? Scandals like Watergate, Iran-Contra, Enron and Bernard Madoffís Ponzi scheme are not the stuff of blogs. If the reporting of scandal was to disappear than the instances of scandal would proliferate. Thatís to say nothing about the reporting of landmark success stories and acts of heroism. Whatís more, radio and TV stations rely heavily newspapers for the news they broadcast.

History is our guide. We have never entirely given up one medium in favor for another. When radio and TV followed newspapers onto the scene we started getting our news from all three sources, we didnít reduce our options by abandoning a particular medium. We indulge in all of them.

Thereís no doubt newspapers will play a diminished role in some ways. It has already happened. But thatís also been true of network television. ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox have all been forced to live with smaller audiences Ė first because cable TV cannibalized their audience, then when the internet diverted the attention span of millions more. The more time people spend on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogs, the less time they spend watching TV.

Newspapers have more readers than ever but fewer paying readers than in the past because they are taking advantage of free internet access to their daily news. Like the TV networksArticle Search, newspapers are learning to deal with this new reality.

As media options multiply the number of people spending time on each medium naturally thins. Itís just a fact of media life. Newspapers will learn to co-exist with their media siblings. Theyíve done it before.

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Mike Consol is president of He provides corporate training seminars for communication skills, business writing, PowerPoint presentation skills and media training (both traditional media and social media). Consol spent 17 years with American City Business Journals, the nationís largest publisher of metropolitan business journals with 40 weekly newspapers across the United States.†

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