In June, Pew released portions of its annual State of the News Media report. As always, it is full of interesting data that shows what is changing—and what isn’t—in the sphere of news media.
Instead of releasing one large comprehensive report on all aspects of news media, Pew has elected to break out the data by releasing results over the course of several months. The data on cable television and newspapers were released in early June, and audio/podcasting and network news breakdowns were released mid-month.
There’s something for communicators and PR pros to learn in just about every one of these sub-report factsheets. Whether you have client interests in public affairs or are producing a podcast for your own agency marketing, here’s what Pew has learned about the habits of media audiences.
One of the more notable findings was the steady increase in the audience listening to podcasts. In 2006, 11 percent of Americans reported that they had “ever” listened to a podcast; that number is now 40 percent. The increase in the number who listen to podcasts “monthly” has also continued to edge upward, from nine percent in 2008 to 24 percent in 2017.
The study notes that due to a number of technological restraints, they are unable to break down the podcast data into different formats, so we don’t know how many of those podcasts are news-related.
The study reports network news from ABC, CBS, and NBC evening news broadcasts has a stable audience, varying by only one percent in 2016. The same held true for the morning network news shows, they too dropped only one percent in 2016.
The numbers jump considerably when looking at the Sunday political talk shows. There, the combined audience of the three networks climbed 14 percent in 2016—an election year, if anyone needs reminding. Whether these numbers can be sustained in 2017 is the question.
“Newsmagazine” shows—such as Dateline, 60 Minutes, and 20/20—continue to lose audience. In 2008, the audience for these types of investigative reporting shows was around 40 million; in 2016 audience size had dropped to just over 30 million viewers.
Despite the recent bumps up in subscriptions to some of the nation’s largest daily newspapers, the overall picture for newspapers remains bleak. Both digital and physical subscriptions declined by eight percent from the previous year. Unsurprisingly, physical print took the biggest hit, with both daily and Sunday circulations decreasing by 10 percent and nine percent, respectively.
The Pew factsheet does point out that the figures for digital news are difficult to assess, as the three largest daily newspapers in the country have not “fully reported” their digital circulation figures to the Alliance for Audited Media (AAM). (AAM is a nonprofit group that was established in 1914 by the Association for National Advertisers; it works to independently verify circulation figures and audience information for media companies, newspapers, and magazines.) For smaller daily publications, the issue is that the websites don’t get sufficient traffic for the data to be tracked by comScore, which is the source used by Pew to assess digital numbers. So, on the high end of the spectrum the newspapers are holding digital data close to their chests, on the small end, the numbers are low enough that they aren’t reportable. This leaves a gap in understanding, but it is still clear that newspapers continue to struggle to maintain an audience.
Newsroom struggles are also reflected in the newsroom staffing chart that Pew includes. Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they show newsroom staffing at 41,400 in 2015 (the most recent data available). This is down from the prior year by four percent, and down considerably from the high in 2006 when newsroom employment was recorded at 68,610.
Like the Sunday political talk shows above, the recent election cycle bolstered cable news viewership considerably. Pew’s research shows that the combined viewership of three major cable news channels (CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC) increased by a remarkable 55 percent in 2016.
What can communicators take away from this data?
Much of the information contained in the report confirms what PR pros have experienced firsthand: there are fewer journalists producing the news that Americans are consuming, so it’s going to be more of a challenge to capture their attention.
On the other hand, podcasting deserves attention as a possible owned media channel. Whether it is people downloading podcasts for long commutes or for some other reason, the growing audience for podcasting is there.
Reviewing data on how the news media is faring should be done with PESO strategies in mind. Pew’s reporting makes this process easy—and it might help to shape how you think about the overall balance of your paid, earned, shared, and owned media work.