A bridge made of 1s and 0s: Will online media (eventually) save the newspaper?


Consultant and former journalist Mark Potts has done a lot of thinking about the future of the newspaper. Last year, he did a study into advertising trends that found a gap between that falling rate of print ads and the rapid growth on online ads. He predicted it would take five years or more for the Web-based revenue stream to catch up.

Turns out, as a new American Journalism Review story makes clear, that this was wildly optimistic.

Potts based his research on contemporary stats showing that print ad revenue for newspapers was dropping at around 5 percent per year, while online ad revenue was skyrocketing, showing nearly 20 percent rates of growth. If those numbers had held true, he calculated, papers would take a bath until roughly 2013, and then start to slowly turn around.

As it happens, print ad revenue is now falling about twice as fast as it was last year. And online ads aren't growing fast enough to keep pace. Some of this is due the recession facing all businesses. Not all of it.

There will be winners and losers. And even as the industry as a whole survives, we may begin seeing, pretty soon, big American cities with no daily newspaper.

"It's going to be really bloody, incredibly devastating," Potts predicts. "And I think there are going to be a lot of major metros that don't make it."

It's tough to read this and not think about the Strib. The news isn't all bad, though, as Potts makes clear when kicking around potential solutions. Newspapers have lots of advantages, from intellectual capital to name recognition to (ideally) a honed local focus. Embracing new technologies and ways to push news out -- and finding a way to make money doing it -- is a key next step.

There's a bridge there to be crossed, even if it looks like that bridge from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.