The State of the News Media 2015

state of news industry 2015

state of news industry 2015One of my favorite annual reports is the Pew Research Center’s State of the News Media 2015. Now in its 14th year, the report is one of the best indicators of the health of the news media industry. The major theme from this year’s report is the rising challenge news organizations face managing mobile and social media audiences. Most notably, 39 of the top 50 digital news websites have more traffic coming from mobile than from desktop computers.

For those of you working in digital marketing or related fields, this should come as no surprise to you. More consumers are accessing all kinds of websites via mobile devices than from desktop computers. What’s surprising is how slow news organizations are adapting to the rise of the mobile consumer. This may be intentional, as mobile visitors are less valuable to advertisers (and therefore publishers) according to Pew (validated by comScore data).

Why are mobile visitors less valuable? They are ‘hit and run’ visitors – they don’t stay around as long as desktop visitors. They hit the site, consume the content they were looking for, and move on to the next shiny thing that catches their attention. There is a silver lining though – 10 of the top 50 news sites report mobile users stay around longer than desktop users, so perhaps some news organizations are evolving to serve the needs of a mobile, less attentive visitors.

What other trends are revealed in this year’s installment of the State of News Media?

  • The legacy news industry – traditional newspapers and magazines – have made little progress securing digital ad revenue. According to the report, digital ad revenue grew 18% in 2014 from 2013 – to more than $50 billion. This sounds great to me, but apparently traditional news outlets are only getting a small slice of that pie. Five technology companies took half of all display ad revenue, with Facebook accounting for 24% (it looks like Facebook has figured out how to make money).

state of news media - economic trends 2015

  • Local television is seeing an uptick in viewership, particularly around the evening news. The audience for evening network news broadcasts is up 5% from 2013 to 2014, according to Nielsen Media Research data. Early evening and local morning news viewership is also up for a second year in a row. It appears more consumers are tuning in to get their news via TV, which is promising for the local news business.
  • Newspapers continue to struggle as an industry, which should come as no surprise to those working in journalism. Newspapers aren’t alone though – cable news also saw significant declines in 2014 vs. 2013, according to Nielsen Media Research. How big is “significant”? Prime-time viewership for CNN, Fox News and MSNBC was down 8% in 2014. Despite the decrease in viewership, revenues were up 4% (according to SNL Kagan, as reported in the State of News Media report). Newspaper circulation only declined by 3% (according to Alliance of Audited Media data) – unfortunately, that equates to a decrease of 19% over the past decade – and newspaper ad revenues are now less than half what they were back then.
  • One surprise from the report is the increased popularity of podcasting. I know, I was surprised too. According to NPR, downloads of podcasts were up 41% in 2014. I’m skeptical about this large an increase year-over-year, but it makes sense when you consider the improved ease of use in downloading podcasts to a mobile device. According to Edison Research, 17% of Americans have listened to a podcast in the past month (up from 9% in 2008). Most promising for the news business is that one-third of Americans ages 12 and over have listened to a podcast, up from 11% in 2006. Now I don’t know about you, but I haven’t listened to a podcast lately. I’ve watched a lot of news videos via social networks – if that counts as a podcast, then maybe the numbers add up. Regardless, this is an area for further exploration as part of a news organizations multimedia strategy.
  • To expand further on the mobile vs. desktop insights presented in the report, the ten digital news outlets that have more mobile time on site than desktop time on site (mobile users staying longer per visit than desktop users) include some obvious players (more sophisticated mobile offerings): CNN Network, BleacherReport, Chicago Tribune,,,,,, Mashable and Not surprising, most of these news organizations are know for having sophisticated digital operations.

state of news media 2015 - mobile vs desktop

If there is one criticism I have of this year’s report, there is little analysis to the news consumption behavior of consumers via social media – a significant factor impacting the performance of traditional digital and digital-native news models. The report does mention the the growth of mobile relates to the rise of social media, where the flow of information takes on a new dynamic. Nearly half of all Internet users report getting their news about politics and government on Facebook for example – a platform where influence is driven by friends and algorithms.

Like most consumers, I now find a majority of my news content via social channels. Breaking news makes itself known to me on Twitter, or my friends share via Facebook instantly. I learn about news well in advance of the evening news – which I do watch when I’m home from the office in time to catch the broadcast. Changing news habits have incredible impact on how and to what extent people receive information. More and more of the “power of the press” is in the hands of technology companies like Facebook – and more accurately, the behavior of users in how they find, consume and share news content.

The news industry has little control over how or if its content reaches its intended audiences via social channels like Facebook. But we all need news organizations to have more control over how they get their information to consumers, right? This leaves publishers with only a few options: pay to expand reach via social, ignore social as a ‘push’ channel and rely on social sharing from better (and more engaging content) via owned channels, or develop a hybrid model that combines the best of digital news with social prioritization of content.

When you look closer at the social media dynamic of news distribution and consumption, I don’t think the problem is as bad as it sounds on the surface. Content shared on social still has to originate somewhere – and that somewhere is often a mainstream news outlet that has wisely integrated social sharing functionality at the article level. I would have liked to see more analysis on this dynamic in this year’s report, but trust Pew will provide additional research around this topic throughout the year.

If one thing is obvious in reviewing this report year-after-year, it’s that consumer behavior continues to outpace publisher innovation. News organizations appear to have a much better handle on what’s going on than in years past, and I expect to see continued innovation across digital publishing to address these changing consumption patterns.

What do you think? What findings were most surprising to you in this year’s State of the News Media report? Where do you think the biggest area of opportunity is for publishers? What would you do if you were in charge of the digital operation for a top 50 news organization?


About Jeremy Porter 214 Articles
Jeremy Porter has been passionate about the intersection of public relations and journalism since studying both Public Relations and Journalism at Utica College of Syracuse University in the late 90s. Porter launched Journalistics in 2009 to share his ideas and insights around both professions and how trends and developments in modern day marketing, communications, and technology impact those working in these fields. Porter also values the traditions and history of both professions and regularly shares his perspective in these areas - and related topics geared toward the next generation of journalism and public relations professionals.


  1. Great post, keeping track of all forms of media, including social media is imperative for any large company. You make a good point about mobile audiences. It is interesting to see all the forms of media reported, without the emphasis on social media. Thanks!

  2. Great post! I believe it will take a long time to see mobile visitors convert as well as desktop / PC users. It might take as long as a generation to get parity there. Ot tablets and smartphones need to evolve a lot before mobile visitors behavior changes.

    • I’m actively monitoring variances between desktop and mobile conversions for several projects at the moment. I agree with you that mobile conversion rates still have a way to go, but it’s only a matter of time before mobile conversions catch up to desktop. When you look at the increase in mobile or tablet traffic year-over-year for any site these days (in any industry), it’s easy to see that audiences are leaning more and more to mobile as the first point of engagement. As users become more sophisticated mobile users (comfortable completing more actions via the mobile device), we’ll see conversions spike for mobile. The key is optimizing the user experience for the growing mobile/tablet audience to help this happen faster. Simple efforts like ensuring your website complies with Google’s standards for mobile-friendliness is a good starting point for anybody trying to reach mobile audiences. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Coming from a college student, this is very interesting! I figured that mobile sites are more popular for getting news, but I never realized that mobile visitors are less valuable. It surprises me that local TV news viewership is increasing, probably due to the fact that I do not know anyone my age who watches TV news unless they’re in a waiting room. Also, while local TV news is increasing popularity, cable TV news is decreasing. Finally, I find it hard to believe that podcasts are increasing in popularity; they seem like the most obsolete to me, even compared to newspapers, which are decreasing.

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