Date of Award

8-2005

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science

Major

Communication

Major Professor

Candace White

Committee Members

Eric Haley, Sally McMillan

Abstract

In order to understand what lies behind the phenomenon of online newspapers, this study takes a qualitative approach through interviews with online newspaper managers. In addition to attempting to determine if online newspapers had become profitable business ventures, this study explored the benefits, other than possible profit, that support the decision to keep the newspapers online and what online newspaper managers see as the next evolutionary steps of online newspapers.

Interviews with thirteen online newspaper managers were conducted by phone. The interview guide consisted of open-ended questions covering eight topic areas. Online managers, recruited from Editor and Publisher Year Books and through referrals of other interviewees, were selected from mid-size daily newspapers (print circulation of 75,000 - 250,000), owned by large parent companies, that have had an online presence for at least five years.

Although one interviewee reported "trying to figure this thing out since '94," findings indicate online managers are knowledgeable of the consumer trends and industry practices currently common throughout the online newspaper industry today, as well as the uniqueness of their local market and the need to adapt their online newspaper to meet their audience's needs. However, even as revenue from online newspaper operations continues to grow, online managers share a general concern about the ability of the industry to respond to technological advancements and competition in a timely manner.

The online newspaper managers participating in this study reported that their online publications were profitable and that the publications remain online not only as an outlet for advertising to reach people, but because they extend the newspaper brand; online newspapers attract a different audience, one that is not reading the print newspaper; they are accessible twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week and can provide breaking news; they provide value to the community as a forum to consume news and communicate with one another; they can relate to users in a variety of ways; and they are seen as more than a newspaper to many people because they provide news in addition to being a source of other information and a resource.

In the future, online managers believe the push for increased advertising revenue will continue; the increased use of broadband will pave the way for increased interactivity on the websites; user-contributed content will play a bigger role; technological developments will continue to influence how people get their news; and individuals will increasingly customize their news experience to receive only the information or topics that interest them.

Online manager’s main concern revolved around competition. While some looked at it in terms of continuing to increase audience numbers and advertising revenue in light of other options available to news consumers, others looked at it in terms of not knowing who or what the next competitor will look like and if the industry would react fast enough.

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