Major US report asks: Could Facebook swallow up the Washington Post?


By Noel Young | Correspondent

March 19, 2012 | 4 min read

Will Facebook and Google gobble up major "legacy" print publications like the Washington Post? That is one intriguing question raised today in a major US report putting the future of newspapers under the microscope.

A legacy partner for Facebook?

The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism says that, although news is being gobbled up faster then ever because of the mobile revolution , traditional news outlets are still not in on the bonanza.

One in four people in the US now getting their news from smartphones and tablets. New cars are being made with internet built in.

Newspapers are still in there at the centre of the mix: with consumers seeking out traditional news sites. But fewer and fewer are buying the printed daily product.

Many people habitually check their tablets before going to bed to see what is going to be in a newspaper the next day, said Tom Rosenstiel, Project for Excellence in Journalism director.

"The demand for conventional journalism endures and in some ways is even growing," Rosenstiel said. "There were many people that didn't predict that. The content is still coming from traditional news companies."

Yet five technology companies — Microsoft, Google, Facebook, AOL and Yahoo! — generated 68 percent of digital ad revenue in 2011. By 2015, Facebook is expected to account for one out of every five digital display ads sold.

Even as online audiences grew in 2011, print circulation and ad revenues continued to decline. Losses in print advertising outpaced gains in digital revenue by

roughly 10 to 1 last year. When circulation and advertising revenue are combined, the newspaper industry has shrunk 43% since 2000.

The Pew report asks whether technology giants will find it in their interest to acquire major legacy news brands — as part of the “everything” they offer consumers.

Will Facebook, for example, consider buying a legacy media partner such as the Washington Post?

The report found that in 2011 “the news industry was not much closer to a new revenue model than a year earlier and has lost more ground to rivals in the technology industry.”

Traditional news organisations are trying to make money online through paywalls, licensing partnerships and the like. But according to Pew, their efforts are “still limited” and “few news companies have made much progress in some key new digital areas” such as targeted advertising.

Total online ad revenue rose by 23 percent but revenue for network and local TV news, magazines, and newspapers, fell 7.6 percent, the biggest percentage decrease.

One good news story was The Atlantic magazine , where digital ad revenue exceeded print ad revenue for the first time in October 2011. Other good news for magazines in the US : 239 titles were launched in 2011, up from 193 magazines in 2010. Only 152 magazines folded, down from 176 titles in 2010 and 596 in 2009.

But what could be the news industry’s saving grace, says the Pew report, is the fact that news is becoming more important than ever in people’s lives. Can newspapers, somehow somewhere find the muscle and inspiration to turn it all round?


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