And that might be a good thing.
According to a recent study commissioned by the Newspaper Association Managers (NAM), 25 percent of newspaper executives believe the industry will be more relevant five years from now than it is today. A full half think it will be equally relevant, and only about 16 percent say it will be less relevant.
The report was published on Tuesday by the NAM and is based on research conducted independently by the Princeton, N.J.-based company American Opinion Research. The findings were gleaned from interviews with 386 daily and weekly newspaper executives from June 18 through July 6. Researchers reached out to executives in all 50 states and Canada.
"The survey's guidance...will be helpful in allocation of resources," said Newspaper Association Managers president Dean Ridings in a statement. "However, it is also a call to action to provide increased leadership in promoting the industry."
Two words best summed up the direction many newspaper execs feel the industry needs to go: local and digital. According to the report, executives believe they need to concentrate their efforts on providing readers with locally aimed information that they can't find anywhere else. That tactic is reflected in recent trends at many smaller newspapers, where staff cuts have pushed remaining reporters to focus on local news while editors cull nationally aimed stories from wire services like AP.
Executives also say they're learning to embrace the digital environment -- something they haven't always been willing to do in the past. That finding, too, substantiates previous research. Earlier this month, a study by the Newspaper Association of America found that the number of paywalls on newspaper websites has skyrocketed since 2010. Paywalls, while controversial, at least demonstrate that newspaper companies are accepting the reality that print advertising will not keep them afloat forever.
Concern about advertising revenue was the number one worry for newspaper executives, according to the NAM study. Moreover, in light of constant media predictions about the demise of the industry, many execs also worry about the negative image of newspapers as a whole. While they give their local press associations high marks in general, many execs believe such organizations should be more aggressive in promoting newspapers as an indispensable resource.
Founded in 1992, NAM is a trade group that represents about 2,000 state, regional, national and international newspaper associations in the United States and Canada. If the results of its study seem overly optimistic for an industry whose primary source of revenue is in a state of free fall, it's important to note that newspapers have been declared dead before. Radio and television were both expected to kill them off, and by the time the Internet rolled around in the 1990s, newspaper circulation had already long since peaked.
Maybe a little optimism is just the kicker the industry needs.