I don't want to make too much of this, but an ever-so-faint light might be perceptible at the end of the tunnel for struggling newspaper publishers. That very dim illumination -- which battered managements and advertising executives can be forgiven for believing is nothing more than yet another oncoming train -- is newspapers' own blog pages, which appear to be generating traffic at a rapidly expanding rate.
At least that's the contention of the research firm Nielsen//NetRatings, which analyzed the traffic on the top 10 newspaper sites for the month of December. The firm believes that the traffic to the papers' blog pages grew by about 210% in the month, compared to the last month of 2005.
That's clearly an impressive figure, but before you assume that blogging is guaranteed to be the great elixir for the newspaper's now well-known maladies, you need to realize that the increase results in large part from an extremely low baseline a year ago. In fact, according to Nielsen Senior Director of Media Analytics Carolyn Creekmore, many of the newspapers either were new to or had not yet entered the world of blogging as recently as a year ago.
The top 10 newspapers included in the Nielsen study were New York Times'
But it seems to me that blog-induced growth in traffic to the newspapers' sites shouldn't be dismissed as a mere indication of the paucity of blog arenas in 2005. In fact, it does appear that the blogging phenomenon could be of real value to the papers. For instance, blogs permit reporters to connect with readers in a way that simply isn't possible with the traditional offline format. At the same time, blogging results in a constancy of conversation and immediate feedback for the reporters and editors alike.
From the perspective of readers, blogs foster a significantly heightened sense of immediacy when compared to the traditional format, along with an opportunity for a real give and take with reporters. And from my standpoint as an erstwhile journalism professor, it seems that the blog just might serve as an important catalyst for enhancing the contributions to the newspapers from their online units.
Does any of this cascade the companies mentioned above into the world of attractive investments? Clearly, it doesn't. But it'll be an interesting trend for Fools to watch while they monitor their investments in other more promising industries.
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Fool contributor David Lee Smith does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned. He welcomes your comments or questions.