Newspaper readership is not an urban legend

The below piece was written by Tim Shoults, operations manager of Aberdeen Publishing and a member of the BC and Yukon Community NewsMedia Association board of directors 

You’ve heard of urban legends, right? Like the lady who had a spider bite that turned into a nest of eggs that hatched under her skin, or the tale of the kid that died from drinking cola after swallowing Pop Rocks.

How about this one: “Nobody reads newspapers anymore.”

Like many urban legends, everybody’s heard it and some people assume it must be true because they’ve heard it often enough.

Well, like Pop Rocks kid and spider-egg woman, it just isn’t so.

The debunker in this case is 2019 Newspapers 24/7 study, conducted by News Media Canada, the national organization representing more than 1,100 daily and community news media outlets across the country.

This study, the seventh annual one, was conducted in February 2019 across all provinces, in English and French, and consists of 800 online interviews. It was designed to explore how Canadians read daily and community newspaper content, on different platforms and at different times during the day.

Since the first study back in 2012, there have been shifts in reading by platform, but one thing has not changed — Canadians continue to access newspaper content across all the various platforms.

In 2012, 85 per cent of Canadians reported they read newspapers on any platform over the course of a week. In 2019, that number has climbed to 88 per cent.

This year’s report also found that 83 per cent of newspaper readers are accessing at least some of their newspaper content online.

But that’s not replacing print readership. It’s supplementing it.

The study found more than half of readers access newspaper content from both print and online sources.

The study found readers from all demographics use multiple platforms — print, desktop/laptop computer, phone and tablet — to access newspaper content.

Most print reading happens early in the day, while digital reading is more consistent from morning to night.

Which brings us to the other urban legend, that millennials don’t read news.

The research specifically looked at the newspaper reading habits of younger Canadians, and found that 88 per cent of millennials (those born between 1982 and 1999) read newspapers weekly — the same percentage as the overall population.

The difference with this generation is how they access newspaper content, primarily through their mobile phones, and when they read. They peak early in the morning and are more consistent throughout the day, while Baby Boomers peak in both the morning and again after dinner when reading news content.

And again, just because millennials read mostly on their phones doesn’t mean they’re not reading print as well. The study found more than half of all millennial newspaper readers also read news in print — from 57 per cent of all phone readers to 66 per cent of all tablet readers.

Business decision-makers are news junkies, with the highest percentage of readership throughout the day across all platforms, again peaking in the morning and after dinner.

“Both print and digital newspaper sources play a unique and distinct role in the lives of Canadians,” said Claude Heimann, the president of Totum Research, which conducted the study.

“Readers start their day with the comprehensive and in-depth reporting of a print newspaper and stay up-to-date on breaking news with digital as the day progresses.”

As Bob Cox, the chair of News Media Canada, said: “Given heightened levels of global mistrust, we’re seeing a clear and continued affinity for the reliable reporting that newspapers provide. Newspapers continue to be the go-to source for credible, trusted and independent news, in both print and digital formats.”

And, unlike an urban legend, that’s something you can rely on.