COVID-19 is big news. From incredible increases in Google searches to TV news ratings, the pandemic is driving high interest in news outlets.
For the New York Times, digital subscriptions topped 6 million. More than 600,000 new subscriptions were added as the pandemic swelled in importance. However, juxtapose those grand numbers against revenue drops of 30%, 50% to 75%. NYT estimates revenues could sink 55% in the second quarter. So eyeballs are way up and advertiser interest way down.
This unprecedented time could be catastrophic for the print newspaper industry. The Quad City Times (Lee Enterprises) decided not to produce and deliver a print paper on Memorial Day this year. With so little advertising, you may see others cancel low advertising days.
This reality is countered by a study by Pew last year that found more than 70% of respondents believe their local news organizations are doing well financially. The reality is this may be an extinction-level event for many newspapers.
What initiated this blog was an unsolicited thank-you note we received from the Des Moines Register for being a loyal news reader. (We do subscribe to a lot of newspapers. Last count was five.) I’d never received a thank-you from a newspaper that was not connected with a subscription renewal, so this was new to me. It made me think: It is time for some new thinking with newspapers.
Some news organizations may need to become nonprofits to survive. According to the 2019 Pew research, only 14% had contributed money to any local news source such as National Public Radio this past year. That means there is potential with the other 86%.
Not since British warned the Governor of Massachusetts in the 1699s, “Great inconvenience may arise by the liberty of printing,” have our free-speech rights under the First Amendment (even though the Bill of Rights would not be ratified until 1791) under so much pressure, and the Fourth Estate is going to need some help and a lot of creative thinking to survive.