The demise of many newspapers appears imminent. Readership is plummeting as are ad revenues. The following chart on ad revenue is dramatic, showing revenues falling back to levels not seen for 60 years:
Drops in circulation of serious proportions have also occurred. According to Don Irvine the drops are accelerating for most newspapers:
… since 1990, circulation figures for the largest daily newspapers, excluding The Wall Street Journal, have plummeted, with the steepest declines occurring in just the last three years.
In fact The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and the New York Daily News, which all boasted circulation figures of more than 1,000,000 in 1990, are now well below that figure. The Daily News’ circulation is hovering in the 500,000 range and is still declining.
Undoubtedly a great deal of the decline in newspapers has been due to technology and lifestyle. Internet and 24-hour network TV access provide competition that didn’t exist 3 decades or so ago. Both have dramatically changed the manner in which people choose to receive news.
The “dumbing down” of America has likely also played a role. People’s attention span and reading skills have deteriorated. “Sound bites” substitute for meaningful analysis. Newspapers duplicate these in headlines (often misleading compared to the underlying story), but cannot do so as well as television or tweets and other social media. The internet also provides ways to “filter” news to your taste. Feed readers do so efficiently.
These alternatives undoubtedly explain much of the impending demise of many newspapers. More outlets are competing for limited eyeballs and changing tastes.
There is another element that should not be overlooked — bias in reporting. Recent surveys show that the belief of liberal bias in mainstream media has never been higher. This opinion appears supported by the relative success of Fox News and the Wall Street Journal. Both of these news services are perceived as conservative alternatives and both are strengthening relative to their competitors. Alternative conservative websites are also thriving, suggesting a growing distrust for establishment sources. How much the bias and trust factors influence the decline in newspapers is indeterminate.
The reality is that the delivery system of printed media of all sorts is inefficient and dying. This is true of newspapers, books and magazines. Technology and consumer tastes have created this “creative destruction.”
As an old-timer, I remember a riddle which went something like this: What’s black and white and red (read) all over? The answer was a newspaper. That riddle seems silly in terms of what is happening today. Another old phrase from the height of the cold war days might be more appropriate. Back in the time when atomic/nuclear war was deemed likely, the phrase “better Red than dead” became popular among the left. With minor modification, it appears this phrase is relevant to newspapers of today: “Better Dead Than Read.”