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News still wanted, just not with ink on fingers

| Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016, 9:10 p.m.
Paul Zanetti | Caglecartoons.com

I love getting ink on my fingers and then leaving smudges on the walls of my house. Sunday mornings are perfect with a pile of newspapers at the breakfast table. And it's reassuring even to hear plastic-bagged newspapers hitting the driveway in the early morning on a cool night with the windows open.

But if these are the confessions of a print newsman, I must admit that I also love reading the news on my iPad too. News media experts have predicted a shift to digital news delivery for decades. Some thought the paper would come into homes as a daily fax and others imagined flexible digital paper that updates automatically.

For the moment, it has turned out to be mobile-first devices, such as tablets and phones, that have replaced newsprint for growing numbers of readers.

Even so, most people — even a vast majority of young ones — want the news, said Jennifer Benz, deputy director of the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, a media research group in Chicago.

“There was this sort of bemoaning about millennials and this idea had started to gain traction that this generation was entirely newsless,” Benz told me. “Certainly differences exist in the way older and younger Americans get their news, but younger Americans still are getting good amounts of it.”

The largest group of news consumers accesses information continuously throughout the day, according to the American Press Institute, a Washington nonprofit that tracks media trends. And since the start of the decade, more people have turned to the Internet for news, other research shows.

It should surprise no one then that newspapers are following customer demand online.

The Tribune-Review surprised many with the recent announcement that while it will continue to print a daily newspaper in Greensburg and Tarentum, it will switch to a digital-only product in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.

That news followed moves by newspapers in other cities — Seattle, Detroit, Harrisburg, among others — to stop printing or home delivery every day and to offer an online version instead.

Among those lamenting the “loss of a daily newspaper” are many who haven't taken a printed paper in years, preferring free online information or subscription-based apps. No doubt times are changing but the news is not all bad: Millennials consume news frequently and seriously, according to the Center for Public Affairs Research.

Two-thirds of young readers access the news in some form at least once a day, and 85 percent acknowledge that keeping up with the news remains important.

Perhaps more significantly, 40 percent of them pay for at least one news-specific service, app or digital subscription.

More than 60 percent of millennials get their political news from Facebook, compared to just 37 percent via local television, according to the Pew Research Center, another Washington nonprofit that tracks the news. The numbers reverse for baby boomers.

Traditional news organizations that adapt can meet these demands. The transition is not easy or painless: Just ask any of my friends who have left the business in recent days, weeks and years. But there's opportunity too. Young people want to go into the news business for all the reasons that have driven previous generations: to have a positive impact by upholding the truth.

They're just willing to do it without ink on their fingers.

Andrew Conte is the director of the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University.

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