Thursday, August 06, 2009

Nielsen numbers reported by Nieman don't support dire conclusions

The headline at the Nieman Journalism Lab website does sound apocalyptic, so of course it was quickly repeated and gained wide currency amongst folks who think the battles about journalism are already over.

It says, “NAA/Nielsen stats show newspapers own less than 1 percent of U.S. online audience page views, time spent.”

Less than one percent? We’re doomed.

Well, no we’re not. The measure Martin Langeveld uses as a base is “Active Digital Media Universe” – which means everybody who uses the web for anything.

I posted a comment at the Nieman site this morning to express my concern with that:

This is useful, and thanks for flagging it, but the important information is *not* what you’ve concluded.

“Active Digital Media Universe” is a meaningless point of comparison. That includes e-commerce, porn, news, MySpace, music, ad infinitum. A huge percentage of that use isn’t and won’t ever be even remotely about news. Never was, isn’t now. Bad comparison.

It’s also not true that the 65% who didn’t visit a news site “got their news elsewhere.” Chances are a lot of them didn’t get their news *anywhere* and weren’t interested. Again, t’was always thus. Not everybody who read the comics or classified got the paper looking for news, that that’s far less true today.

The important measurement, it seems to me, is how news sites do in serving people who are looking for news. Your interpretation of these figures sheds little light on that essential question.

I know news companies can do better at this, and have argued how, most recently proposing collaborative, mass scale aggregation of curated news. That can be hugely profitable -- but still won’t capture the porn audience.

Obviously, that number (percent of total audience) looks better as it gets higher, but it's not the key metric. Despite the assertions of critics, news sites like McClatchy's continue to grow audience and revenue. This new Nielsen report needs more study and thought, but it is not the bombshell it's been presented as.


  1. Thanks Howard - I've responded over at Nieman

  2. Find Martin's thoughtful response at

    As I mentioned, I think his take on the Nielsen measures *is* important and ought to be paid attention to. But I don't think it's anything like the indictment many have taken it to be.

    I believe his would have been a stronger post initially if it included the context and nuance provided in his response to me. That's the wonderful thing about interactivity, though, and has happened to me many times: Our ideas get better as they are tested, challenged and refined.

  3. I think both contexts are valuable. The time spent with news sites in relation to total time spent online is certainly valuable. The less time people are spending with us, the less likely they will value that time and choose to pay for it and the less valuable their attention is to our business partners. It's also relevant that nearly all of those other places are free.

    Yes, a comparison with other news sites would also provide meaningful context (not our share of total digital consumption, just our share of digital news consumption). But what's a news site? None of the eight sites Martin listed as pulling in more traffic than all newspaper sites combined is a pure news site. But lots of consumers get their news from those sites.

    Where Martin is absolutely correct is that NAA's numbers provided neither context, so they were nearly meaningless.

    Admittedly, this is a self-promotional plug, but the small slice of time that people spend online with newspaper sites underscores that we need to think more broadly, as I proposed in my Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection: