THE GOOD NEWS ACCORDING TO official newspaper industry estimates released Tuesday is that ad spending climbed 2.4 percent in the third quarter. The bad news for the still primarily print medium is that print ad sales rose just 1.6 percent, while sales for online editions soared 26.7 percent. The third quarter’s modest gain is the medium’s worst advertising performance in what has been a decidedly negative year for most papers. In addition to slackening ad demand, major publishers have had to contend with rising costs, declining circulation and several rounds of job cuts at major papers.
However, the silver lining comes from newspapers’ online properties, which will continue to grow its share of newspaper revenues. Online readership is growing at a healthy pace, and more and more advertisers will shift their budgets online in pursuit of greater targeting and reporting capabilities.
Following up on the “newspapers are dying” noise of a few weeks back, the newspapers may not deliver so much paper anymore, but they are in a position to be solid players in local news. The problem will be costs, which no publisher is comfortable undertaking to win readers’ confidence (since only ads bring in the Real Money, as far as publishers are concerned), which is why local citizen journalist networks are likely to ignite the local news scene. The papers will have all these salespeople seeking new inventories—and the CJ sites will have it. The exit strategy for all those citizen journalism companies, however, will be a return to the news organizations through acquisition. That’s when we’ll see if the spirit of citizen journalism will survive the assault of mammon.