Posted by: mhdiaz | June 13, 2011

Coming in from the Cold – The Changing Landscape for News Content

Please join me in welcoming Chris Cowan, ProQuest’s VP of Product Management, to InfoViews.  His new occasional series, Unlocking the Value in News Content and Solutions, focuses on the transformations that are occurring in the news sector and implications for cost, quality, and accessibility of news content for libraries, researchers, and the wider world. — Mike

I’ve run for longer than I can remember.  My steps have danced, glided, and more recently plodded over all types of terrain from beaches to snow-capped mountains, from California to Maine and Florida to Washington, from the cinder tracks of my Kentucky youth to pristine tracks in Europe.  It’s never mattered to me where I was running, so long as I was moving over the earth.  Moving forward has been the purpose; it has been the drive.  Forward is my favorite direction.

But regardless of where I run, running in the winter is when I enjoy it the most.  Winter holds the appeal of graceful cascades of snow laced branches,  the soft hissing of snow as it lands on shrouded grounds, the bracing bite of northern winds against my face (in full disclosure, I grow a beard every winter).  I find energy and renewal in the quiet of muffled footsteps on frozen, deserted landscapes.  The slower pace of the world, the stillness enveloping my motion.   Winter brings a perspective and builds a perseverance.

Unlike the peace I experience in the winter, however, the newspaper industry is slowly shaking off an unrelentingly brutal,  five-year winter.  Over these past five years, newspaper publishers have struggled as their traditional print business has eroded under repeated storms of internet competition.  In the U.S. news industry alone, print advertising revenues (which account for 80-85% of a typical newspaper’s overall revenues) have fallen from $47B at the end of 2005 to barely $27B in 2010. That’s Billions, not millions.  It’s hard to comprehend a $20B collapse with little of it likely to return.  Like trees overburdened with heavy ice and snow, branches have broken off and some trees will not survive.

It’s been a harsh winter and newspaper publishers would love to be able to come in from the cold.  They’ve ripped out expenses and downsized staff drastically across the board, even in previously sacrosanct editorial departments.  Days of publication and distribution channels have decreased at some papers (e.g., Detroit Free Press, among others), a few have switched from the printed word to digital (such as our hometown Ann Arbor News), and over 100 titles have just disappeared from the landscape (Rocky Mountain News, et al). 

While prognosticators began warning of an impending storm as early as the mid-1990s, newspaper publishers took predictions of peril in stride and were slow to make changes in their high profit, strongly positioned enterprises.   There was no urgency or even a belief in the need to change back in the 1990’s.  But, there is now.

If only news publishers knew how to bring about spring.  For many of us who have grown up appreciating and even relishing newspapers as part of our daily lives, this extended winter has unalterably changed the media landscape and the way we travel through it. 

But news publishers are surviving this internet  winter of dis-content;  the value of news remains.  News is still essential; but, its value is shifting.  As radical business changes continue transforming the news industry, the role of news content for libraries and researchers will continue to evolve as well.   I hope you’ll join me in examining the changing shape and substance of news content and services for libraries and researchers, and in reviewing emerging issues related to accessibility of news and historical news, digitization, preservation and more.