Trial and Error: U.S. Newspapers’ Digital Struggles toward Inferiority

Editor’s note: Three years ago, Dr. Iris Chyi, University of Texas, published a book related to her findings of digital success rates in the largest 50 U.S. newspapers. I interviewed Dr. Chyi for a podcast in 2017 and learned that among other consequences, one major national media associations refused to publish her findings, after those findings didn’t jive with what they were reporting to their members. Great reading, Trial and Error: Newspapers’ Digital Struggles toward Inferiority is must-reading for any newspaper publisher, editor or anyone with an interest in the digital side of the industry.

Chapter 1

by Iris Chyi

The so-called “new media” experiment launched by traditional news organizations since the mid-1990s has been going on for nearly two decades. Motivated initially by high hopes for market opportunities, newspaper firms in the United States and other media markets have expended substantial resources digitizing and distributing their content online. However, the performance of these ventures has fallen short of expectations. Technology, once considered an opportunity, has turned into an existential challenge for U.S. newspapers.Contrary to general impressions, most U.S. newspapers were not slow in adopting Internet technologies for news delivery. The Web did not become publicly accessible until 1991. Soon after Mosaic (one of the earliest Web browsers) was released in 1993, the Palo Alto Weekly went online in January 1994 as the first Web-based newspaper. By May 1995, as many as 150 U.S. dailies offered online services—when less than 1of the U.S. population had Web access (Carlson, 2003).
The New YorkTimes went online in January 1996, and numerous newspapers followed suit. By 1999, more than 2,600 U.S. newspapers were providing online services (Editor & Publisher Interactive, 1999).
However, by 2003, the industry consensus was that no business model had been found (Carlson,2003). Media scholars also questioned whether online media can survive without a viable model and whether there is value to maintaining digital media when profitability is not achievable (Kawamoto, 2003). These questions pretty much summarized the first decade of online experiments.

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