Newspaper industry has seen a watershed moment toward mobile

Follow tweets from the conference at #snpaUNC

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Publishers need to follow their readers to mobile if they want to preserve their newspaper's voice in the community.

That was part of the message on Monday during the first day of the May 18-20 conference, "From Disruption to Transformation: New Strategies for Prosperity in a Digital Age," a collaboration of SNPA's Traveling Campus and the University of North Carolina's School of Journalism and Mass Communication. 

Multiple presenters echoed the same theme, that the industry has seen a watershed moment toward mobile.  Monday's presentations focused on the recent changes in the behavior of readers.  Tuesday will focus on how to make money in this new environment.

Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the American Press Institute, and Robyn Tomlin, vice president of digital and communications at the Pew Research Center, presented complementing research that showcased the rapid changes in reader behavior.

Of the 50 top digital news sites examined in the 2015 State of the Media report, Tomlin said that 39 receive more traffic from mobile devices than from desktop computers.  Speakers at the event said that community newspapers are matching these national trends.

Rosenstiel said this means newspapers need to be cross-platform. "You don't have a 'print audience' or a 'mobile audience,'" he said.  Instead, readers use whatever device is most convenient for the news topic they are looking for.

Penny Abernathy, the author of "Saving Community Journalism: The Path to Profitability" and one of the hosts of the conference, said this new reader behavior leads to an important idea: "what it means to serve our advertisers in this new world."  She said newspapers need to look five years ahead to keep up with the changing needs of their readers and advertisers.

Les High, editor and publisher of the family-owned News Reporter in Whiteville, N.C., said he never expected to see the erosion in print circulation that he has seen in the last six years.  Readers are going to other sources for their news.  "If we don't move toward a digital platform, put emphasis on digital, we're going to lose our voice," he said.

High said a pivotal moment came when his employees in their 20s explained their perspective on the changes in readership: "However people get their news, we need to make sure they're getting it from us."

Paula Seligson

Monday's speakers also discussed how readers consume stories about different news topics in different ways, the importance of cutting legacy costs to reinvest in digital innovations and also digital strategies in the newsroom. Tuesday will focus on developing new business strategies. 

You can follow tweets from the conference at #snpaUNC.

Read coverage from Tuesday

Read coverage from Wednesday

Paula Seligson is a research specialist at the University of North Carolina's School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She has worked as a reporter for a community newspaper and currently researches trends in the news industry for Penny Abernathy, Knight Chair of Journalism and Digital Economics.

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