Newsosaur Alan Mutter asks some worthwhile questions about newspapers losing the battle for audience retention despite doing some things right. He says the decline in stickiness is "puzzling in light of the energy most publishers in the last year have put into building traffic with such features as 24-hour news, video, blogs, podcasts, slide shows, interactive commentary and user-generated, hyper-local content."
It's all based on Nielsen audience rating data, so a couple of words of caution would be in order.
Nielsen data (and data from other sample and survey-based ratings services) often displays a spooky disconnect with hard measures the publishers themselves can examine, such as on-site analytic software.
The other is that measures such as "unique users" and "time on site" are all tangled up with each other. A news event that generates a sudden rush of pageviews may tank your derived numbers for pages/unique and time/unique.
This effect is especially strong if the news event brings in large numbers of outsiders who have no general and continuing interest in the local market.
That said, there are some oddities that stand out. What happened at the Miami Herald that led to a simultaneous 31.3% drop in audience and 54.7% drop in stickiness, October 2007 vs. 2006? Ouch.
Overall, I like the argument that says an explosion of choices is simply outracing us. I think that's the harsh big truth behind the decline of print journalism as well. And it's not just about news choices.
I believe most news consumption historically has been driven by a desire to be entertained, not informed.
That continues to be true today; how else can you explain the audiences for cable TV news? It's barely news and mostly infotainment.
When serious journalism has to compete not only with televised sitcoms but also the entire Internet, of course we're going to see erosion.