Q&A: Ways News Media Can Evolve and Survive

An influential forecast of global media activity released this summer offered a bleak outlook for the newspaper industry.

It turns out that a co-author is based in Seattle, graduated from the University of Washington, and is the daughter of a freelance journalist.

CJ Bangah also sees opportunities for newspapers to survive and continue printing newspapers, despite the great challenges and disruptions they face.

Bangah, a consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers, is part of a team that produces the Global Entertainment and Media Outlook report. The latest version sees US newspaper revenues fall by 2% and circulation by 3.3% per year on average through 2026.

This is despite its forecast of 4.6% compound annual growth across media and entertainment, including an average 6.6% increase in ad sales through 2026.

After I stopped shivering and Bangah returned from the unveiling of the report in France, we discussed what the newspaper industry is facing and how it could survive.

Here are edited excerpts from our conversation:

Q: Why does your report see strong print growth for books but not for newspapers?

A: You see that consumers are getting more and more information through short-form videos, through email lists, through things like social media, whereas with books, the book print still has quite a high affinity, especially with people who prefer it. There is not as much competitive pressure for books as there is for newspapers, where there is more competition with the platforms available.

Q: Some newspaper consumers still have a strong affinity for print.

A: They absolutely do.

Q: Is there a possibility to build on this or is it too late?

A: If you look at print publications that still have potential, they are doing certain things to stay viable, relevant and innovative. They make the printed page really appealing and they really strive to deliver a lot of value to consumers. In your opinion, there are consumers who really love to read the Sunday paper and some consumers love to read it seven days a week. There are also consumers who would find it more convenient to have more engaging and immersive news experiences, whether you’re watching the metaverse or other things between now and web 3.0. So I don’t think you’d say there’s no future in that – our data suggests that there will always be a significant audience that will engage with traditional newspapers. I just think the opportunities for innovation are becoming more and more important for publications.

Q: Maybe there is an opportunity like the resurgence of vinyl in recorded music. Perhaps a new generation is turning to print for authenticity and style.

A: If there is a larger goal and a larger value, authenticity is absolutely a terrific goal, especially for the younger generation. They are looking for trusted information providers, for things that fit their own values ​​and their own culture and things that are essential to them. So if there’s a combination of innovation in format and delivery and storytelling and emphasis, and a continued emphasis on trust, transparency, security, reliability and predictability (news) – these different dimensions together pave the potential way for valuable and legacy print news to stay relevant and change the growth trajectory, where you capture the print audience, you capture the digital audience and, most importantly, you capture a broader definition of the consumer.

Q: The report focused on innovation opportunities for legacy newspapers. Does this apply to the entire industry, or will the few people who can afford a lot of investment succeed?

A: Financial financing alone is not always the motherhood of innovation. If you look at some of the successful businesses today, they started out small with not a lot of capital. Finding new ways to do more and “do it differently” without necessarily investing a lot of capital seems to be the need here.

That kind of thinking, about how we can really focus on our strengths as a local publisher and find new ways to authentically connect with the communities we serve, is a bit more what I meant when I said there was an opportunity for innovation. This can range from reviewing in-person events to revamping the content catalog to releasing cadence updates or digital hybrid nuances such as pricing, packaging.

The right competitive platform and the right investments will be truly ubiquitous depending on the type of publication you are and the power and engagement you have with the consumers who buy from you.

Q: If the trends continue, the model suggests that log activity will eventually drop to zero, right?

A: This is a question I posed a few years ago for traditional television – is traditional television disappearing? We are not going to zero in our forecast period. You might say “CJ, you’re only dating five, what if you’re dating 20?” The wider environment suggests it needs to be reinvented. You are going to have an evolved competitive landscape. But I don’t think that we are, in the next 10 years or probably even 15 years, envisioning a world where printed information drops to zero. I think we envision a world where the role print media plays in the larger entertainment and media ecosystem faces some form of transformation and continued destruction.

Q: I read that your view of the newspapers was very gloomy, but you injected positive notes. What do you really think of the outlook for the news industry – is it bleak?

A: In traditional media and entertainment, there is room for transformation and transformation in a way that helps bridge the trust gap and provides real service to consumers and the industry as a whole. Any kind of change can feel difficult and destructive and can feel intimidating. But I think with the right strategic direction and the right investments, and keeping the consumer front and centre, with proper digitalization and embracing the world we’re in now and not the world we were in 40 years, I think there is something to be optimistic about.