Vanishing, But Not Quite Vanquished

by Jean Gossman

 

The Vanishing Newspaper

by Philip Meyer

University of Missouri Press

 

Building on Influence

 

Quality journalism increases outlets’ credibility and social influence, in turn increasing profit and circulation. It certainly sounds simple and logical – look at the Washington Post’s halcyon days of Watergate reporting.

The Vanishing Newspaper is the product of University of North Carolina journalism professor Philip Meyer’s extensive statistical analyses and social science research to quantify the “influence model” as a profit model that can bring newspapers and new media success in the Information Age.

Former Knight Ridder executive Hal Jurgensmeyer originally posed this noble “influence model” of the newspaper business in the 1970s. He believed newspapers’ societal influence enhanced and drove their commercial influence toward profit.

 

Extensive Research

 

Meyer acknowledges that his work relies heavily on public Audit Bureau of Circulations data; news companies keep financial information close to the vest. Seeking a correlation between credibility and profitability, Meyer studied 25 counties where the dominant newspapers are or were owned by Knight Ridder.

Chapter after chapter of graphs and charts detail the outcomes of measured credibility, reporter error, readability, and staffing.

 

No Proof

 

But with all of the regression analyses and discussion of market penetration and CPM, clear proof of the influence model still eludes Meyer in the end.

It seems that some things haven’t really changed. Jurgensmeyer’s model was developed when newspapers were threatened by the still-new technologies of FM radio, television, and slick color print processes.

Meyer acknowledges newer threats. Burgeoning niche-media products and the increased number of news-delivery vehicles “consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention."

Admitting that newspapers are “in a death spiral,” Meyer urges their management to “take the risk” of investing in new media.

It helps to be a policy geek or a quantitative analyst when reading The Vanishing Newspaper, but readers dedicated to the profession of journalism will appreciate the wealth of contextual information and no-nonsense, face-the-future insight that Meyers provides.

 

For more information on Philip Meyer and his research:

www.unc.edu/~pmeyer/Quality_Project/