Despite declining readership and an economy that has battered revenues and forced painful cuts, the publishers of U.S. dailies remain optimistic about the future of newspapers.

In the largest survey of its kind, nearly two-thirds of responding publishers expressed optimism about the future of the newspaper industry. Forty percent said they were “somewhat optimistic,” while 25 percent identified themselves as “very optimistic.” Thirty-one percent were neutral. Only four percent identified themselves as “not optimistic;” no respondent chose “not optimistic at all.”

The question was asked as part of the RJI Publishers Confidence Index, the first in an annual series of surveys benchmarking opinions of newspaper leaders about the future of the industry and their organizations’ ability to adapt to fast-changing market conditions. The Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI) at the Missouri School of Journalism is devoted to exploring new ideas, experiments and research that will improve and sustain journalism.  

65% optimisitic or In the survey, 458 in-depth telephone interviews were conducted with publishers, presidents, senior vice presidents or other senior managers or editors designated by the publisher. The interviews, conducted by the RJI Insight and Survey Center, represent one-third of the daily newspapers in the United States. In assembling the sample, researchers were careful to ensure it reflected the distribution of circulation sizes across the industry.

Although the survey revealed increased effort being poured into development of new digital products at newspapers, many publishers are counting on the print edition to continue to play a significant role in future success.

Responding to the question, “Do you ever envision a time when your organization will not publish a printed edition,” 62 percent replied “no.” One-third of the respondents replied “yes,” and 5 percent said “maybe.” Circulation size made a significant difference in how respondents answered this question, with publishers of smaller papers less likely to envision a time without a printed edition.

Do you envision a time without print?Of those publishers who envision a day when their companies will no longer print, 19 percent expect that to happen in less than 10 years; 46 percent estimated it would happen in 10-20 years; 14 percent expect it will not happen for at least 20 years.

When asked whether the leadership of their companies has considered eliminating a day of publication, as Advance Publications is doing with its New Orleans newspaper and others, 77 percent said “no.” Seventeen percent said “yes,” and 5 percent replied they already have. Advance announced in May its plans to reduce the New Orleans Times-Picayune’s printing frequency from 7 to 3 days a week, while interviewing for the survey was under way.

Interviews were conducted from May through July. The response rate of the survey was 77.6%. For results based on the entire sample, the margin of sampling error is plus or minus five percentage points.

Other aspects of the survey — relating to print and digital revenue, paid online models, mobile and tablet development and perceived threats to long-term success — will be released here over the coming two months.

[Note: this post was amended Sept. 26 to correct information about the relationship between circulation size and optimism.]

Michael M. Jenner  
Professor and Houston Harte Chair in Journalism


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