And the bottom line? These are uncertain times. But you already knew that. Here, then, are a few of the statistics Mitchell shared with the audience that may offer some guidance on the future of journalism:
- Contrary to popular opinion, the average American actually spends more time consuming news than he/she did a decade ago. They tend to spend the same 57 minutes per day getting news through traditional outlets (radio, TV, print) today as they did in 2000. But they now also spend another 13 minutes per day consuming news online for a total of 70 minutes spent each day following current events.
- People tend to be "news grazers" getting their information from a variety of sources with just 33 percent of Internet users saying they have a favorite site for their news gathering.
- Moreover, the average time per visit to news sites continues to drop. In 2009 it was three minutes and six seconds. Last year it dropped to just two-and-a-half minutes.
- Sixty-two percent of Internet users participate in some kind of social media.
- Seventy-seven percent of social-media users say they get their news from social media.
- Facebook is now the third biggest referral site for news articles, following only Google and the main new site from which an article is linked (ex. a New York Times article that's linked from the main page of the NYT.)
- In 2010 online news readership grew 8.5 percent. News consumption for all the following fell: local TV (-1.1%); network TV (-3.4%); print newspapers (-5%); cable TV (-11.4%); magazines (-12%).
- Newspapers have lost an estimated $1.6 billion from their newsrooms budgets since 2000, and that money isn't coming back with online ads selling for a fraction of what similar print and classified ads sold for.
- Of the three cable news networks, Fox and MSNBC far outpaced CNN in revenue in 2010.
Lessons? Obviously social media is key. Getting people to share stories on Facebook, Twitter, etc. can bring in new readers. But is a more wholesale change needed?
Based on the success of Fox News and MSNBC, I asked Mitchell if she thought the key these days was for news outlets to become more partisan as a way to increase traffic.
Mitchell didn't really answer my question, but she ended her talk by noting that the public today has a lot more freedom to choose where and from whom they consume their news. With that freedom comes that old journalism mantra: Always consider the source.
As for news agencies, the challenge is to make the news available in platform-specific consumption across all new media -- phones, tablets, social media, etc. The news, concluded Mitchell, can no longer be seen as a product. It must be considered a service.
That said, I'm struggling to think of any business -- be it a manufacturer or a service industry -- that gives away its work for free, as has been the case over the past decade with newspapers and the Internet. Mitchell suggested that that may change as papers find a way to finally charge for news downloaded to tablet computers.
We shall see.