Would Facebook buy the Washington Post to keep the paper running?
That's the provocative question at the heart of a new study by the Pew Research Center.
The growth of social media and technology companies like Twitter and Amazon are encouraging more and more news consumption, but legacy media companies such as the Post and the New York Times are not benefiting financially from the broader reader base.
On average, newspapers in the United States shed $10 in print advertising last year for every $1 they earned online.
That's a steeper drop than just a year ago, when Pew found that publishers lost $7 in print advertising for every $1 they earned from the web.
Overall, the newspaper industry has shrunk nearly in half since 2000, the study finds. The shrinkage is occurring from national papers like the Post and the Times to a bevy of regional papers. Reporters and editors are being laid off or offered buyouts at an alarming clip, putting enormous strain on once robust news-gathering operations.
So if these deep pocketed Silicon Valley giants want to keep their customers tweeting and sharing links to articles, will they prop up beleaguered print publications?
The authors of the Pew report note that Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon and others are all expanding their suite of offerings — dipping their toes, fingers and what-have-you's into everything from web video to email to browsers.
"All this raises the question of whether the technology giants will find it in their interest to acquire major legacy news brands — as part of the 'everything' they offer consumers," the study's authors muse.
Barring a life raft from Mark Zuckerberg, newspaper publishers will continue to play catch-up. In 2011, five technology companies accounted for 68 percent of all online ad revenue.
True, newspaper publishers were able to generate some digital dollars, but nothing on the scale of the big technology companies and nowhere near enough to offset the losses on their print sides.
Online advertising among newspaper companies rose by $207 million, but print advertising fell roughly $2.1 billion. Many companies, such as the Times and the Los Angeles Times, have unveiled or are planning paywalls in an effort to further bolster digital revenue.
But their exists an often hostile relationship between traditional media and the internet. Former New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller has publicly criticized Twitter and online news aggregators, and, in a widely circulated speech at Columbia Journalism School, Harper's Magazine publisher John R. MacArthur called the internet an "unthinking Xerox machine" that is ravaging the publishing industry.
On a more hopeful note, the report notes that there are signs that the bonds between technology companies and traditional media are tightening. Among the partnerships announced recently are a YouTube and Reuters alliance to produce original news shows and a content partnership between Yahoo and ABC News. Facebook's social reader has created fresh opportunities for papers like The Wall Street Journal and no-less a social media guru than Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes recently purchased the New Republic magazine.
The report is the ninth edition of the State of the News Media produced by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.