Original content aids growth of online newspaper audiences

The audience for newspaper Web sites is growing at a faster rate than the overall online audience, according to recent research from the Newspaper Association of America (NAA).

The audience for newspaper Web sites is growing at a faster rate than the overall online audience, according to recent research from the Newspaper Association of America (NAA).

The study, conducted by Nielsen/NetRatings, found that an average of more than 59 million people per month visited newspaper Web sites in the first quarter, a 5.3% increase over a year ago, while the overall online audience grew 2.7%.

NAA president and CEO John Sturm attributed the results to the industry's investment in digital innovation. "Newspaper publishers have aggressively transformed their business models, continually providing ground-breaking content to consumers with their expanding digital portfolios," Sturm said in a statement.

But despite a growing online audience, newspapers have yet to grow online revenue enough to offset print advertising declines.

Why does it matter?

"A lot of [publications] are investing more in their Web sites, so it makes sense that as PR people, that's where we're looking, as well," says Nick Ragone, SVP and director of the New York communications media strategy network at Ketchum.

The move toward original content "is truly driven by business decisions. More and more, publications are putting resources against their Web sites and cutting back against regular staff," Ragone explains.

In the past year, many established media entities have revamped their sites to focus on original content, rather than just repurposing what's in print. "There are new reporters on sites doing their own original reporting: blogging, print, and video," he notes, opening up more opportunities for PR pros. "There are all sorts of places to pitch that didn't exist six months ago."

Five facts:

1 Wall Street Journal managing editor Paul Steiger told PRWeek the paper's January redesign, which shifted breaking news online and an emphasis on analysis in print, was prompted in part by its growing online audience.

2 Chicago Sun-Times parent The Sun-Times Media Group last month launched NeighborhoodCircle.com, a group of community-oriented Web sites that allow suburban residents to interact with one another by posting stories and photos.

3 In 2006, ad spending on newspaper Web sites jumped 31.5% vs. 2005, to $2.7 billion, the NAA reports. However, online ads accounted for only 5.4% of overall ad spending.

4 The NAA Nielsen/NetRatings study found that 41.8% of people who visited newspaper Web sites had viewed streaming video on their computers in the past 30 days, compared with 27.4% of the total Internet audience.

5 In 2006, newspaper Web sites generated about $81 million in revenue from local streaming-video advertising, compared with about $32 million for local TV sites, according to local media consultant Borrell Associates.

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