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Traditional Media Still Preferred For News Than the Internet

By PHILIP M. STONE

Back in the days when New Media was THE buzz expression, there were a great many pundits declaring the end of traditional media as we knew it and that within just a few years the world would rely almost solely on the Internet for written news.

The latest research by the Pew Internet & American Life Project today suggests  that just plain is not so. Traditional media lives and thrives. Yes, people certainly get some of their news from the Internet, but according to Pew, 45% of American Internet users get their news online and offline, with just 22% of that group accessing news more often online than off. Indeed, some 71% of Internet users get their news more often from newspapers, radio and television than they do online.

Sure, when a big event breaks, news internet sites can crash because of the heavy volume. But day in and day out the world still depends primarily upon the traditional media for its news. 

An Exercise in Killing Trees

At a World Association of Newspapers annual meeting in Amsterdam held at the height of the New Media boom at the turn of the century, Michael Bloomberg, head of the financial information agency that carries his name (but before he became the mayor of New York) had the assembled group of global publishers and editors eating out of his hand, telling them how the news business was going from one strength to another. But then he dropped his bomb -- as far as he was concerned the only thing newspaper publishers were really doing was  killing trees needlessly! Within a few years, he suggested, the daily newspaper would no longer be a part of our lives. 

I don't recall ever seeing a speaker lose his audience as quickly as Bloomberg did with that one line. But Bloomberg was not the only news executive to think that way.

In Reuters, the folks who spearheaded the New Media business from New York, and were being very successful at it, felt exactly the same. At a major meeting of global media heads held in the Reuters boardroom in London  the plea was to turn all of the media business attention to New Media and to basically put traditional media into "care and maintenance"  -- an expression which meant give it as little attention as possible.

That debate ended when yours truly grabbed a copy of the morning newspaper in his hand and told the assembled executives  "If for no other reason, daily newspapers will continue to thrive because when I go to the toilet its is my morning newspaper I take with me and not my PC!" And off I went, newspaper in hand.  Lots of laughter but the point was made and we moved on. But it was close.

If You Can't Beat Them, Join Them

Interestingly, traditional media has played it smart over the past five years, adopting a "If you can't beat them, join them" strategy. Within the  list of the top 20 internet news sites in the US today you'll find Gannett Newspapers, Knight-Ridder, New York Times, Tribune Newspapers, USA TODAY, Hearst Newspapers, and the Washington Post, plus several major broadcast organizations. 

Smart strategy -- if you can't beat the Internet, then join it. But don't lose sight that it is the traditional product that most people still prefer. One  of the main purposes of the Internet site should be promoting your traditional media product. It is the traditional newspaper, radio or TV station that people rely upon for most of their daily news fix.

Don't be surprised at the statistics showing internet usage is up, internet advertising is up, and the forecasts look good for the future. That's all true, but that doesn't mean that's happening because of news coverage. The statistics show news is not nearly as high as you might think as the reason people go on the internet (and of all the news they do look for the number one category is weather -- how do you do in that department?) 

In these days where  traditional media advertising revenues may be down, newspaper circulation may be down, and even viewers may be less, don't use the internet as the scapegoat for those declines. The traditional media audience is still there -- they just want you to provide the overall traditional product they find meaningful and with which they can identify.  

There's more life in the old traditional dog than you may think. 

Philip M. Stone of  Stone & Associates, a partner in followthemedia.com

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