‘Content Shock’ Puts Top Publishers at an Advantage


The titanic eruption of web-based content has reached overload, and a consequent drop in reader engagement. The good news? In this new world of content saturation and falling social shares, the big winners are publishers that have built a strong reputation for original, authoritative content.

In a world where 40,000 articles a week covering Bitcoin were published online in December 2017 alone, the coining of the phrase “content shock” should come as no surprise.

The Content Trends 2018 research report from Buzzsumo, released in March, is based on a review of 100 million articles published on the web in 2017.

The results are sure to send the digital marketing world into a tailspin:

  • Social sharing of content has halved since 2015.
  • The days of viral posts gaining hundreds of thousands of shares are waning as the majority of content now receives zero backlinks.
  • New topic areas are rapidly becoming saturated with content.

The winners in the world wide web of ‘content shock’

In his foreword to the report, Mark Schaefer, author of The Content Code, claims credit for naming this “content shock” back in 2014. He had once seemed a lone voice in the wilderness —until now.

While there’s a battleground ahead for digital marketers and companies that invest heavily in content marketing, there’s also positive news for quality publishers. They are the ones reaping the rewards of an increasingly saturated and competitive online environment.

“Not all sites have seen a fall in content engagement,” reads the report. “We have seen some major publishers increase both their total and average shares.”

Two such sites bucking the downward trend are the Harvard Business Review and The Economist, both of which have experienced an increase in content sharing.

In fact, seven of the top 10 most shared articles on Harvard Business Review over the last five years were published in 2017. The average number of shares has also increased from 4,007 in 2015/16 to 4,506 in 2017.

Similarly, the two most shared posts from The Economist over the last five years were both published in 2017. For comparison, the median number of shares for posts published by The Economist in 2015 and 2016 was 43. However, in 2017 such social shares increased to 78.

It appears that increased content competition has not adversely affected these sites. Paradoxically, it may have helped them reinforce their position in a world of content saturation.

“If you are going to share something with your audience you want to make sure it is well researched and authoritative from a trusted source, thus it is possible people are more selective with their sharing,” states the report.

Profiting from partisanship and LinkedIn shares

Another long-standing publisher sticking out from the crowd is The New York Times., According to the Buzzsumo report, rising engagement with its content may largely be due to political reporting coupled with the trend of rising shares for partisan political content generally since 2015.

After Facebook changed its News Feed algorithm in 2017, most online publications saw a massive drop in social shares. However, The New York Times again sidestepped some hardship by gaining shares on a different platform.

According to the report: “We have also seen major publishers like The New York Times increase their LinkedIn shares, albeit this is still a small proportion of their overall shares. LinkedIn may represent a better opportunity for business to business [B2B] sites. Many businesses were building their presence on Facebook but the recent algorithm changes could prompt a renewed focus on LinkedIn.”

LinkedIn recently told Digiday that comments, likes, and shares on the platform are up more than 60% year over year. The Buzzsumo data also shows that while social engagement with content is falling on Facebook and Twitter, many B2B publishers, including Forbes.com and BusinessInsider.com, are seeing increases in social sharing on LinkedIn.

The trend with backlinks is also positive for quality news publishers. Overall, the median number of backlinks in Buzzsumo’s sample of 100 million posts published in 2017 was zero. However, the report found that backlinks were gained consistently by authoritative sites. For instance, the report states that for sites such as the Pew Research Center, the median number of backlinks per article was higher in 2017 than in previous years.

Good news for the future of online news?

To borrow from the financial lexicon, it appears we are witnessing a market correction in response to an oversupply of lower-quality content and overused formats like clickbait that have peaked and declined.

Reassuringly for news publishers, however, there is clearly rising demand for high-quality, well-researched, and reputable content. For publishers with an established track record of authority in specific topics, they seem poised to gain the most from this climate of “content shock.” Fledgling and lower-quality publications will want to focus on delivering top-notch content rather than resorting to gimmicky publishing tactics that have long-frustrated audiences.

In the end, the Buzzsumo report’s bleak look at social engagement in 2017 offers a glimmer of hope for the future of news online. Quality, not quantity will be rewarded, likely leading to a more productive competitive model that ultimately gives news consumers a better and more valued final product.

Image sources: Buzzsumo

Decline of News-on-paper: United States


Mapping the decline of news-on-paper

[Latest update: December 15, 2017]
The Newspaper Extinction Timeline, released in 2010, predicted that news-on-paper would become “insignificant” in the U.S. Read the Review of the Newspaper Extinction Timelinefor full context.

This page compiles some of the most recent available data on the state of news-on-paper in the U.S. Note that there are massive challenges to gaining an accurate current view of the state of news-on-paper.

  • The Newspaper Association of America (now renamed News Media Alliance) stopped providing detailed industry information in 2013.
  • Publicly listed news organizations have been largely very opaque in providing details on their print revenue and circulation.
  • Almost all so-called “newspaper circulation” figures available include both paper and digital formats. Most of the data below includes both paper and digital so does not provide real insight into the state of news-on-paper.

However the most important issue is NOT the decline of news-on-paper, but from the position we are in today how we can best create a positive future for the news industry over all channels.

More than a 1/3 of paid daily newspaper circulation has disappeared over 10 years

At the turn of the century, newspaper circulation in the United States rested at a relatively stable level of approximately 55 million copies a year. Nevertheless, ever since peaking in the late 1980s—hitting 62.82 million in 1987—the circulation of paid daily newspapers has consistently declined.

[NOTE: Figures include both print and digital]

Data sources: Editor & PublisherAlliance for Audited MediaPew Research Center  Chart source: statista

The pace of decline accelerated in 2004 (54.63 million), but not precipitously, resulting in a drop of more than 36% by 2016 (34.66 million). According to the last ten years of recorded data (2006-2016) supplied in the chart above, paid daily newspaper circulation sunk 34%.  

To take a closer look at the yearly circulation numbers, statista provides an interactive version of the chart above as well as multiple options for downloading the information.

2016 circulation for both Weekday and Sunday editions has plunged to the lowest figures since 1945

[NOTE: Figures include both print and digital]

Data sources: Editor & Publisher (through 2014); estimation based on Pew Research Centeranalysis of Alliance for Audited Media data (2015-2016). Chart source: Pew Research Center

The Pew Research Center offers deeper insight into the decline of newspapers in the United States, providing separate circulation data for Weekday and Sunday daily newspapers. The center’s analysis shows that in 2016 both hit their lowest levels since 1945, with circulation figures of 35 million and 38 million respectively.

Advertising revenue dropped nearly two-thirds between 2005 and 2016, while circulation revenue rose slightly

[NOTE: Figures include both print and digital]

Data sources: News Media Alliance, formerly Newspaper Association of America, (through 2012); Pew Research Center analysis of year-end SEC filings of publicly traded newspaper companies (2013-2016). Chart source: Pew Research Center

The Pew Research Center also analyzed advertising and circulation revenue for U.S. newspapers over a 60-year period starting in 1956. Although circulation earnings have gradually increased, total advertising revenue fell significantly between 2005 and 2016. During these 11 years, total advertising revenue for the industry plummeted by nearly two-thirds, decreasing from $49 billion to $18 billion. The bulk of advertising revenue still comes from print, compromising approximately 80% in 2011 and dropping to close to 70% in 2016.

We recommend the valuable Pew Reseach Center website on Journalism & Media, which is compiled from a variety of industry resources.

Print became the least popular news source in 2014, continuing to fall through 2017 down to 22% weekly consumption

Data and chart source: Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2017

From 2013 to 2017, the number of people who read print newspapers decreased by almost one-fifth. As the medium dropped out of favor, social media as a news source enjoyed a steady climb, with consumption growing by about 6% each year.

Each year since 2012, the Reuters Institute in partnership with the University of Oxford has released a digital news report offering insights into the transition to online news and its effect on the media landscape. Although the first report covered just five countries, the latest included survey data from 70,000 participants across 36 countries.

For people wanting to delve deeper and compare data between and within countries, we strongly recommend reading the latest report and using the interactive feature to create your own charts.

The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal are uniquely positioned to monetize print but its role is rapidly declining

The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal are distinct from other newspapers in the U.S. in that they are truly national and in fact arguably global “newspapers of record”. All three have made a concerted and successful shift to digital subscriptions and advertising. However, their role means that the role of print in their business models continues to be solid.

These uniquely successful news organizations recognize that they may not continue indefinitely on print. New York Times’ CEO Mark Thompson says in an interesting interview in Nieman Lab on when to stop the presses forever:

“The print product is a mature platform. It is, as you say, an economically important platform to us. It’s possible that platform will plateau. I think it’s more likely that the platform will eventually go away. It’ll go away because the economics will no longer make sense to us or our customers.”

Weekly community newspapers are severely challenged but are likely to have further life

There remain many newspapers across the US, primarily weekly, with small circulations but advertising revenues that are sometimes not eroding as fast as larger newspapers due to their highly geographically focused audiences and unique content.

Data source: Editor & Publisher, American Press Institute, Columbia Journalism Review

An excellent report from Columbia Journalism Review’s Tow Center on Small-market newspapers in the digital age provides strong insights into the state of the sector and some of the ways community newspapers are successful responding to change.

Since September 2005, employment in the U.S. newspaper industry has dropped by more than half

Note: Shaded areas represent recession, as determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Data and chart source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 

U.S. Newspaper employment:
January 1990: 455,000 (62% decline since this date)
January 2010: 260,800 (33% decline since this date)
September 2016: 173,700

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also provides the above chart in an interactive format. Users can explore the data further by hovering their cursors over the lines representing the different information industries or by clicking on the “Chart Data” tab to view it in a table format.

NOTE: “Newspaper employment” includes staff working on both print and digital editions, a fraction of these figures work

How Algorithms and Human Journalists Will Need to Work Together


Ever since the Associated Press automated the production and publication of quarterly earnings reports in 2014, algorithms that automatically generate news stories from structured, machine-readable data have been shaking up the news industry. The promises of this technology—often referred to as automated (or robot) journalism—are enticing: Once developed, such algorithms could create an unlimited number of news stories on a specific topic at little cost. And they could do it faster, cheaper, with fewer errors and in more languages than any human journalist ever could.

This technology provides an opportunity to make money creating content for very small audiences—even, perhaps, customized news feeds for an audience of just one person. And when it works well, readers perceive the quality of automated news as on par with news written by human journalists.

As a researcher and creator of automated journalism, I’ve found that computerized news reporting can offer key strengths. I’ve also identified important weaknesses that highlight the importance of humans in journalism.

Identifying automation’s abilities

In January 2016, I published the “Guide to Automated Journalism,” which reviewed the state of the technology at the time. It also raised key questions for future research, and discussed potential implications for journalists, news consumers, media outlets and society at large. I found that, despite its potential, automated journalism is still in an early phase.

Right now, automated journalism systems are serving specialized audiences, large and small, with very particular information, producing recaps of lower-league sports events, financial news, crime reports and earthquake alerts. The technology is constrained to these types of tasks because there are limits to what sorts of information it can take in and process into text that humans can easily read and understand.

It works best when handling structured data that is accurate like stock prices. In addition, algorithms can only describe what happened – not why, making it best for routine stories based solely on facts that have little room for uncertainty and interpretation, such as when and where an earthquake happened. And because the major benefit of computerized reporting is that it can do repetitive work quickly and easily, it is best used to cover repetitive topics that require producing a large number of similar stories, such as sporting event reports.

Covering elections

Another useful area for automated news reporting is election coverage—specifically regarding results of the numerous polls that come out almost daily during major campaigns. In late 2016, I teamed up with fellow researchers and the German company AX Semantics to develop automated news based on forecasts for that year’s U.S. presidential election.

The forecasting data were provided by the PollyVote research project, which also hosted the platform for publishing the resulting texts. We established a completely automated process, from collecting and aggregating the raw forecasting data, to exchanging the data with AX Semantics and generating the texts, to publishing those texts.

Over the course of the election season, we published nearly 22,000 automated news articles in English and German. Because they came from a fully automated process, the final texts often had errors, such as typos or missing words. We also had to spend much more time than we had expected troubleshooting problems. Most of the issues came from errors in the source data, rather than the algorithm – highlighting another key challenge of automated journalism.

Finding the limits

The process of developing our own text-generating algorithms taught us firsthand about the potential and limits of automated journalism. It’s crucial to make sure the data is as accurate as possible. And it is easy to automate the process of creating text from a single set of facts, such as the results of a single poll. But adding insights, like comparing that poll to others in the past, is much harder.

Perhaps the most important lesson we learned was how quickly we reached the limits of automation. When developing the rules governing how the algorithm would turn data into text, we had to make decisions that might seem easy for people to make – such as whether a candidate’s lead should be described as “large” or “small,” and what signals could suggest a candidate had momentum in the polls.

Those sorts of subjective decisions are very hard to formulate into predefined rules that should apply to any situation that has occurred historically – much less to any situation that might occur in future data. One reason is that context matters: A four-point lead for Clinton in the run-up to the election, for example, was normal, whereas a four-point lead for Trump would have been big news. The ability to understand that difference and interpret the numbers accordingly is crucial for readers. It remains a barrier that algorithms will have a hard time overcoming.

But human journalists will have a hard time outcompeting automation when covering routine and repetitive fact-based stories that merely require a conversion of raw data into standard writing, such as sports recaps or company earnings reports. Algorithms will be faster at identifying anomalies in the data and generating at least first drafts of many stories.

The ConversationAll is not lost for the people, though. Journalists have plenty of opportunities to take on tasks algorithms cannot perform, like putting those numbers in proper context – as well as providing in-depth analyses, behind-the-scenes reporting and interviews with key people. The two types of coverage will likely become closely integrated, with computers using their strengths and the humans focusing on ours.

Andreas Graefe, Endowed Sky Research Professor, Macromedia University of Applied Sciences This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Social Journalism Degree Aims to Frame Journalism As a Service


The CUNY Graduate School of Journalism wants to create a new generation of journalists with its recently launched master’s program. Instead of treating audience members as one large mass, the Social Journalism degree aims to teach students how to connect better with communities and individuals.

In a video filmed at the 2014 Online News Association Conference, Jeff Jarvis, the director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at CUNY, explains the goals behind the new curriculum.
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“This is really turning journalism on its head. Rather than starting with the idea that we make content, it starts with the idea that we serve communities. And how do we start? By listening to those communities, understanding them, understanding their needs, and then serving them with all the tools we have at hand.”

One of Jarvis’s main points is social journalism goes beyond basic social media practices such as merely using it as another way to spread content. It’s about listening and building relationships with the public—figuring out their particular needs and how to meet them.

Whereas Google knows where he lives and works, said Jarvis, his newspaper doesn’t know anything about him as an individual. Social journalists will be trained to use data to identify unique people and communities, but also to measure their success in reaching them.

Next Steps

Could social journalism become the new standard for newsrooms? According to CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, the demand from media companies for reporters trained in its practices is high throughout the industry.

Instead of simply waiting for new graduates to fill these open spaces, agencies can act now by reframing how they view news production—as a two-way interaction rather than a one-way conversation. In fact many media outlets already place a high value on engaging readers before publishing a story.

This is often done through crowdsourcing and taking a different approach to social media. Here are some interesting and successful examples to learn from.


In the digital age, it’s easier than ever to access a large audience. In hearing input on events form a mass of people, it helps increase accuracy with multiple accounts and raises community connection with stories.

ProPublica used this method with its project on the patient safety in the United States. In 2012, It offered an online contribution form for people to share their stories and received more than 1,000 responses. Another recent example of collaborative journalism is from The Guardian, which launched a crowdsourced project on police shootings called The Counted.

Rethinking social media

Most media companies view article clicks and shares as the main measures of engagement, says ProPublica’s senior engagement editor Amanda Zamora.

However, growing an active community of people who will discuss issues important to them is crucial to the publication’s success in crowdsourcing. For example, ProPublica’s Facebook group on patient harm has more than 3,000 members, two of whom were speakers at last year’s U.S. Senate hearing on preventable deaths in hospitals.

Jersey Shore Hurricane News, a Facebook page with nearly 230,000 members, was applauded by the White House for doing what traditional news organizations cannot. It connects residents so they can receive and share developments in real time. Beyond simply offering a service to communities affected by storms, it provides news from a multitude of perspectives and from areas many reporters won’t have the resources to access.

Is social journalism the future of news in our constantly evolving digital age?

Image source: Online News Association