Where do you go first for news?

Unfortunately for all of us – those writing, those delivering and those consuming news – the answer to that question is a very real threat to every local newspaper in the country. Yes, including this one.

The more cynical among the populace would argue that if people want a world without newspapers, they'll deserve the world they end up with. The realistic among the populace realizes that newspapers, just like restaurants, gas stations, coffeeshops and other media outlets, are first and foremost businesses. They are businesses that require capital to operate.

That capital comes, of course, from both readers and advertisers. Each takes a piece of the expense, and makes it possible for a Herald & Review to land on your doorstep, front lawn, computer or mobile device.

It's those last two that are causing this business (and, yes we recognize, many other businesses) its largest concerns. We're now seeing numbers that frankly feel like theft.

A new study, containing analysis conducted by experts at strategy and economics consulting firm Keystone Strategy and written by the News Media Alliance, illustrates that the news industry’s loss has been directly impacted by Google’s gain.

More than 200 million unique visitors consume news digitally every month. That's more than ever. But news industry revenue has dropped 54 percent since 2006, according to Pew Research Center. In 2005, for the first time since 1953, daily newspaper circulation in the United States fell below 55 million. The drop has been precipitous since, to just over 30 million in 2017, the last year for which numbers are available.

In the meantime, digital traffic has spiked. The average number of unique visitors to the country's top 50 newspaper websites is approaching 12 million monthly.

While newspapers around the country make cuts or even close, Google is riding the financial benefits of journalists' work. The Pew study showed 39% of Google search results and 40 percent of clicks on trending queries are news content; 16% of results and clicks on the “most searched” queries are news results; the outcome of those results are Google making an estimated $4.7 billion in revenue from news content in 2018.

That's a conservative estimate. The actual number is likely considerably higher.

Newspapers are hardly the only business that's been affected negatively by this generation's technical advances. But they certainly are one.

Google has designed its changes to do what any web business wants – to keep people on its properties. What that means, though, is people can receive the information produced by a newspaper without ever going to that paper's website. That results in a paper like the Herald & Review losing ad revenue, brand recognition and data that could help them build stronger relationships with their readers.

As with any business, in order to survive, news publishers need to be able to make money from their own product, which can be reinvested in reporting. While information wants to be free, journalists need to get paid. This requires finding common rules for a fair and equitable online that allows publishers to thrive and maintain the quality of their content that readers expect.

This is not only essential for the future of journalism, but helps ensure an informed democracy and society. Our local communities and public discourse rely on the availability of and access to high-quality news that keeps our decision makers accountable. News deserts are a growing concern, leaving many communities without access to local news. Local news publishers’ health and sustainability – and that of our democracy – requires the platforms to acknowledge their role and to engage with publishers to create a more just digital marketplace.

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