Pubradio and TV audiences continue migration to digital, State of News Media study shows

By Dru Sefton

Audiences for public radio and television news continue to spend less time with legacy broadcast platforms as they transition to digital listening and viewing, according to the State of the News Media study from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, released today. The 10th annual report examines all broadcast, digital and print media.

NPR’s average weekly broadcast audience fell 3 percent from 2011 to 2012, dipping to 26 million from 26.8 million, according to the report. The weekly number of listeners to American Public Media programs also shrank 2 percent, to 15.2 million. (The report did not detail specific numbers for another major pubradio distributor, Public Radio International.)

On television, the broadcast audience for PBS NewsHour, public TV’s weeknight program, dropped 8.4 percent over the last season to an average of 977,000 nightly viewers — its lowest number since 2008

But both outlets saw lots of action in the digital realm. In 2012, APM’s traffic from mobile devices doubled over 2011 to nearly 271,000 average monthly visits. NPR’s podcast audience increased to an average of 29.3 million monthly downloads in 2012, compared with 28 million in 2011 and 23.3 million in 2010. And NPR apps received an average of 3.4 million monthly visits in 2012. “What’s more, a good deal of the mobile app audience was new in 2012,” the report noted.

However, the report said, developing and promoting apps could be cutting into NPR’s web presence. For the first time since 2006, NPR sustained a drop in its website traffic: Unique monthly visitors to NPR.org have dropped since 2011 by about 9 percent, or 1.6 million, to 16.1 million. (That doesn’t include visits to its mobile site, m.NPR.org.)

Emma Carrasco, NPR’s chief marketing officer, said the network expects continued migration from desktop web access to mobile platforms, and attributes the falloff from December 2011 to June 2012 to an “industry-wide decline generally associated with election year news fatigue.”

“What we have seen since then is not only a steady increase in absolute numbers but our March 2013 unique visitors have already surpassed our peak number of unique visitors of 19.1 million in December 2011,” she said.

For the NewsHour website, total pageviews during the 2011-12 television season grew 21 percent compared with the previous season, to 38.8 million from 32.2 million — although some of that increase was probably due to interest in the presidential election, the report contends.

NewsHour spokeswoman Anne Bell said the program has seen further audience increases both online and on-screen since the survey. “In the second half of calendar year 2012 and in the first few months of 2013 we’ve seen a resurgence of our broadcast audience and continued growth in our web audience,” she said. TV viewing audience numbers are up 27 percent; website page views, up 40 percent.

Looking at the wider commercial-television news field, Pew Research found that sports, weather and traffic content now accounts for 40 percent of local newscasts, up from 32 percent in 2005, while story length is shrinking. In 2012, only 20 percent of local TV stories were longer than 60 seconds; that compares with 31 percent in 2002. Also in 2012, 50 percent of segments were less than 30 seconds long, compared with 42 percent 11 years ago.

Almost one-third of the 2,009 U.S. adults Pew surveyed in January and February said they have left a news outlet because “it no longer provides the news and information they had grown accustomed to,” the report notes.

Foundations stepping up

NPR and NewsHour’s loss of audience on broadcast platforms mirrors trends in commercial TV news. Those numbers were down in every time slot, across all networks in 2012. The average loss for ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC local stations during three key times (morning, early evening and night) was more than 6 percent.

The falloff was especially sharp among younger viewers who regularly tune in to local TV. That under-30 audience dropped from 42 percent in 2006 to 28 percent in 2012, according to Pew Research survey data.

Looking at local content producers, TV newsrooms grew to a median of 32 full-time employees in 2011, up 4 percent from the year before, and more than a third of news directors surveyed early in 2012 anticipated bringing more on. But print newsrooms continue to shrivel. The report estimated that the number of staff in newspaper newsrooms last year shrank 30 percent from a peak in 2000, with fewer than 40,000 full-time professionals nationwide for the first time since 1978.

On the nonprofit news side, some of the newer entrants into the field, such as the Chicago News Cooperative, “have, after launching with much fanfare, shut their doors,” the report says. This contributes to a wider news industry “that is more undermanned and unprepared to uncover stories, dig deep into emerging ones or to question information put into its hands.”

Some of that slack is beginning to be taken up by journalistically independent entities supported by nonprofit funders, the report reveals. “They are covering subject areas that would have once been covered more regularly and deeply by beat reporters at traditional news outlets — areas such as health, science and education.”

The report cites examples of the Kaiser Family Foundation backing Kaiser Health News, the American Institute of Physics sponsoring Insidescience.org, and several foundations supporting the Food and Environment Reporting Network. Mainstream outlets such as the Washington Post and NBC News are starting to carry that coverage.

Questions, comments, tips? sefton@current.org
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