More Bad News For The Newspaper Industry

ACRLog has previously drawn our readers attention to the newspaper industry because it’s having problems that are similar in nature to those we experience as academic librarians. Both newspapers and academic libraries are information intermediaries. They package and connect readers with current news and information; we connect users with content via catalogs, databases, other e-resources, and our own knowledge. The challenge is that their readers and our users can now bypass us in our role as the intermediary to get right to the information they seek.

The latest circulation numbers for newspapers show that daily circulation is down an average of 2.8 percent over the last six months. Many newspapers are laying off staff. When Internet readership is included in the data actual readership is up, but newspapers have yet to find a way to create profits from their online news sites. Those newspapers that are having greater success do so because, according to Louis Hau of, they “emphasize local coverage,” “offer stories you can’t get anywhere else,” “keep it short,” and present the news with “attitude” and “a point of view.” Academic librarians may do well to pay close attention to the newspaper industry as it explores better ways to battle their Internet competition. Strategies such as “focus locally” and “offer content you can’t get anywhere else” seem to play directly to the strengths of our local collections and knowledge of local information needs.

7 thoughts on “More Bad News For The Newspaper Industry”

  1. How depressing – not that circulation is down (well, that’s not good news) but that the solution is news with attitude and a point of view. I’ll take mine plain, thanks. And not too short. Reality is complicated; four column inches won’t do it justice.

    I hope we don’t take the same path. I’d be pretty disappointed if librarians started presenting information in small bites with a point of view added. One of the reasons we’re socially valuable is that we allow for multiple perspectives and let library patrons confront complexity so they can derive their own understanding.

    By the way, this year’s State of the News Media report points out that the news industry is beginning to get the hang of new media and online ad revenue is growing fast. It’s just less profitable than print advertising. It’s a report well worth a look.

  2. Steven,

    I couldn’t agree more. I took a couple of classes at UNC’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and the similarities are many. Worth noting is that this comparison also works between public libraries and local papers. In both public and academic libraries, our local knowledge is possibly our biggest competitive advantage. We need to leverage this both when developing new services and marketing existing ones.

    Google Answers simply cannot help students in the same way that we can because librarians have specialized knowledge about the courses offered at their institution. Furthermore, librarians are in a unique position to collect local knowledge. For example, freshman English composition classes are different based on institution and instructor. It is not economically practical for all purpose information services such as Google to collect and utilize information at such a local level. However, it is part of the libraries mission to do so.

    One way to explicitly take advantage of this parallel is to analyze student newspapers to see what ultra-local information the library might wish to collect.


  3. Barbara,

    It is funny how we picked up on different aspects of what Steven said. I just wanted to say that I agree with your points as well. Luckily we are not profit motivated, but instead results motivated. We don’t necessarily need to provide what our users want, but what they need to properly complete their assignments or research.

    If newspapers do try too hard to “present the news with “attitude”, and “a point of view,” then it becomes even more important that we continue to “allow for multiple perspectives and let library patrons confront complexity so they can derive their own understanding.” Luckily the internet has made it financially possible for citizen journalists to pick up some of the slack as well. I have found that Dan Gillmor’s We the Media offers an accessible summary of many of the changes happening in the newspaper industry.


  4. I agree about the local knowledge – and how much value that can add for our students. There’s a lot in common between journalists’ sense of responsibility for even-handedness and the ethical provision of information and what we value. But it’s cleaner for us – no need to balance values with profits. And that has meant we’re more nimble (I think) with technology than the news media, particularly traditional print journalism. Bless their traditional hearts.

    Gillmore’s book looks interesting. Wired has an interesting article on “crowdsourcing” that reminds me of the way we’re having to rethink how we rethink authority in a read/write world.

  5. When I pointed that out I was primarily focused on the importance of focusing on local resources and providing information and resources that our communities can’t get elsewhere. When big search engines try to meet everyone’s needs – and often don’t do that well – we can promote our ability to meet local needs – those of our user community – quite well.

    Thanks for pointing out the crowdsourcing article from Wired. That was a good related read.

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