Leadership

Why This Newspaper Association Stopped Releasing Quarterly Stats

By / Sep 12, 2013 (photo by NS Newsflash/Flickr)

For years, the Newspaper Association of America released quarterly statistics showing declines in advertising revenue—leading to wave after wave of doom-and-gloom predictions for the industry. Now it’s trying a different approach in an effort to change the conversation.

Everyone knows the newspaper industry hasn’t been having an easy go of it for a long time. Why go out of the way to repeatedly emphasize that point?

The Newspaper Association of America found itself faced with that question—and after much internal debate, it decided to stop releasing quarterly statistics about the industry’s ad sales rates.

The reasons why—and what they’re doing instead—below:

The problem: According to NAA President and CEO Caroline Little, the statistics, which had been made public every quarter via press release for years, focus only on a single aspect of an industry that’s still undergoing drastic change. The regular reporting of the numbers opened the industry up to constant death-knell talk. “[E]very quarter, we’d send out a press release, which would start something like, ‘For the 21st quarter in a row, the newspaper industry has lost X, X, and X.’ And I’m like, ‘We’re press releasing this?’” she explained in a recently released interview with Harvard University’s Riptide oral history project. “So, I did a little study, and I found that every time we released those numbers, about 100 stories would come out citing the NAA members saying the newspaper industry is dead.” The Poynter Institute’s Rick Edmonds points out that while the group stopped issuing the press releases in 2008, it still released the numbers without fanfare until 2013.

What they’re doing instead: The NAA plans to release the numbers for 2013 in a much larger yearly roundup in the spring of 2014. The reason is context: By doing deeper research on a different kinds of revenue-generating activities, the association can show that, even as ad revenues from traditional print models decline, advertising and revenue generation on online platforms are helping to make up for it. Speaking to Poynter’s Edmonds, Little noted that print ads have fallen to 50 percent of overall revenue in the industry, down from 82 percent in 2000. She also stated that newspapers are facing shifts from print to digital similar to other industries yet get more negative attention. Print advertising is “not a targeted area of growth for most companies,” she said.

When industries evolve, dynamic changes can make old measures seem out of date. How can you ensure your industry is using the right metrics? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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