Biggest Threat to Newspapers Is ... MySpace?

In addition to news aggregators like Google and Yahoo, newspapers need to watch out for online competition from a less obvious source--social networks.

That's according to a global study of youth media behaviors commissioned by the World Association of Newspapers and performed by research firm D-Code. The study "Youth Media DNA" presented a decidedly mixed picture of newspapers' future prospects, based on young people's current usage patterns.

Many of the findings weren't particularly surprising--young participants said that new media (i.e., computers, mobile phones, the Internet, and MP3 players) takes up time that participants would have spent with traditional media. In a correlated finding, many participants said their interest in passive media is in decline.

More novel, however, was the finding that "the importance of the social network as a disseminator of news and information is on the rise." The survey elaborated: "Many participants in this phase listed 'discussion with friends' as a top source for news and information, sometimes ranking higher than TV or newspapers."

In this context, the best strategy for newspapers may be inserting themselves into the social networks, so their content will appear alongside--and perhaps become absorbed into--the online discussion and debate. The opportunities are there. Indeed, in mid-April, MySpace launched a news aggregator that draws on content from newspapers as well as other sources, and allows MySpace users to vote for the best stories.

But that arrangement brings up another problematic finding from the WAN global survey. Often, young people "do not realize they are reading online versions of newspapers." The culprits, according to WAN, are the very aggregators that might initially get newspaper content in front of young people.

Newspapers are struggling to remedy the problem--seeking ways to brand content so it can be both recognized by the reader and monetized by the newspaper.

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