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CEO Column: Witnessing the evolution of the newspaper industry

Caroline Little, President and CEO of NAA
Caroline Little, President and CEO of NAA


By Caroline Little, president and CEO, NAA


Four years ago, most of us wouldn’t have predicted award-winning TV series would debut via online streaming on websites such as Netflix and Hulu and would never be aired on cable or network television. Just four years ago, it seemed unlikely that people would prefer online music streaming and radio apps over CDs and iPods, let alone be willing to pay for it. And four years ago, most of us wouldn’t have imagined we would get our news updates on our watches.

During my four years as the CEO of the Newspaper Association of America, I have watched nearly every media industry shift dramatically in response to the ever-changing technology and consumption habits of our audiences.

The same holds true for newspapers. This industry has been around far longer than radio, television or telecommunications, and some critics have questioned how we will continue to remain relevant in today’s digital world.

But today’s numbers speak for themselves: In the United States, the newspaper digital audience is skyrocketing, reaching 176 million unique visitors across all platforms in March (comScore, 2015). Circulation revenue is also rising, both in the United States and around the world. According to the 2015 World Press Trends Survey, global newspaper circulation revenue exceeded advertising revenue for the first time ever.

The reason? Newspapers are leveraging technology and audience data more than ever to create new content, products and services that attract audiences and advertisers. The appetite for quality content and information is insatiable, and over the last few years, we have transformed into an industry that adopts and utilizes the latest developments in social, mobile, print and video to better reach consumers with interesting and engaging content.

Let’s look at a few of the ways the news industry has evolved:

  1. Social media. These days we are always “plugged in,” because we want to be up-to-date on the latest happenings. Increasingly, people are getting their news through social media. Newspapers have been successful in bringing the news directly to social media users. USA Today, for example, uses Snapchat to cover live sporting events through instantly-delivered photos and captions. Periscope, Twitter’s live-streaming service that debuted in the spring, is being leveraged by reporters and media outlets as a way to give viewers the inside look at breaking news, sports events, and even political press conferences. The New York Times used WhatsApp, a messaging app that is incredibly popular outside the United States, to broadcast information about the Pope’s visit to South America to its international audience. And the experiment of Facebook Instant Articles, which hosts articles directly within its social platform for a seamless user experience, has seen initial interest by publishers as a way to attract new subscribers.
  2. Newspapers have developed niche apps with customized content, such as the New York Times Cooking App and the Denver Post’s Colorado Ski Guide, to build on popular features and further engage specific audiences looking to more deeply explore their areas of interest.


  1. Print special features. While print products continue to provide the best quality for reporting local, national, and global news, newspapers have also evolved their offerings in response to readers’ desires for quality leisure-reading. For example, some have begun offering expanded Sunday sections, such as the Philadelphia Inquirer’s lifestyle section, “Live, Life, Love.” Similarly, the Chicago Tribune has doubled its opinion pages, following the growing reader interest in local commentary.
  2. Native advertising. Advertisers are still taking notice of the growing audience and continued demand for newsworthy, useful content. This has inspired the recent interest in native advertising, or sponsored content, which doesn’t disrupt the reader experience and provides more valuable and relevant information. This approach gives people more of what they want – quality content – and less of what they don’t – a sales pitch – while driving traffic to advertiser sites and their products; all while being tailored to their specific interests. Native advertising improves ad performance, and combining native with social media is an advertising “1-2 punch,” particularly as people get their news increasingly through social media channels. Ensuring native ad content is consistent with a publication’s trusted brand and reputation is of utmost importance to our members that has allowed newspapers to become leaders in this growing form of advertising.
  3. New revenue streams. Less than a decade ago, 80 percent of newspaper revenue came from print advertising. Today, the revenue stream is much more diverse with less than half of total revenue derived from advertising in the traditional daily and Sunday print products. Event marketing, digital marketing services, and increasing circulation content along with other sources account for the bulk of newspaper company revenue.

Much has changed in four years, and I can say with confidence that the newspaper industry is poised to continue evolving with new technologies and engaging content in the years to come. It’s been an honor to serve as CEO of NAA during the last four years and I look forward to cheering the industry’s continued success.

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