Negative perceptions of the future of newspapers were challenged by a barrage of figures by Timothy Balding, CEO of the World Association of Newspapers, at the 60th congress in Cape Town today, writes Anton Harber.

Presenting the latest "World Newspaper Trends" report,
Balding dismissed the "doom and gloom" of many analysts who presented
newspapers as a "deadwood industry".

He cited the sale of 515-million newspapers every day across
the world and the 1,6-billion people who read daily papers. The survey had
counted 11 207 titles around the world, the highest in history, he said.

Paid newspaper sales were up 2,3 percent last year, and 4,3
percent if you included the rush of new free newspapers into the market. Newspaper
advertising went up 4 percent across the world last year and 15 percent over
the past five years, he said.

The growth, however, was overwhelmingly in Asian countries,
with China and India
showing extraordinary levels.

Balding said that, while other media audiences were
fragmenting, newspapers were proving to be "fragmentation proof", making them
not the mass-market channel of the past, as was commonly perceived, but the
mass-market channel of the future.

At the same time, newspapers were going through enormous
change. Now 41 percent of the titles were tabloid, a huge growth against the
broadsheet format, which used to be more popular (now just 40 percent of
titles). Also, the biggest growth came in free newspapers, particularly in Europe, which were up 46 percent last year to make up 32
percent of the European newspaper market.

Newspapers were also increasing their online presence. The
number of papers with websites went up 80 percent in the last three years and
16 percent in 2006.

Free newspapers made up more than half the market in three countries:
Spain, Denmark and Iceland.

A survey of Newsroom Trends, based on interviews with
editors in newsrooms across the world, showed that senior newspaper journalists
were cheerful about the future of their industry and adjusting to changes and

John Zogby of Zogby International, which conducted the
survey, said that they found that "newspaper editorial leaders worldwide have
good feelings about the future of their own papers and the industry as whole,
and they seek to be prepared for (and even welcome) the development of new
technologies in news and distribution."

While 34 percent said that free newspapers were a welcome
addition to the market, 29 percent saw them as a threat. Seventy-four percent
were positive about the effect of the internet on the quality of journalism,
with only 11 percent negative.

However, while 35 percent believed that print would still be
the most common way to read news in five years, 51 percent believed it would
come in other, electronic forms.

The major threats to their editorial independence. editors
said, were advertisers (28 percent) and shareholders (26 percent).