If the advent of television marked the beginning of a long and ugly death for newspapers in America, then the final nail in the coffin is the Internet. How many newspapers were published in your town or the nearest big city when pre-boomers were growing up? Is the major newspaper still in business? What is its current circulation? What’s going on?
In 1940, when the population was only 132 million, there were 1878 daily newspapers published in the United states with the evening papers holding a 4 to 1 advantage over the morning editions. Total circulation for all dailies was just over 41 million. Back then, before WWII, most moms stayed at home and the husbands worked. Reading the evening paper was the way most people got their news. Papers were delivered in the late afternoon in time for dad to read when he got home.
Since then, the population more than doubled while daily newspaper circulation rose less than 30%. As of 2005, the number of daily papers declined by 22.7%, from 1878 to 1452. Evening papers fell to 645, almost 58%, as morning papers increased to 817. The evening papers could not compete with the speed and impact offered by television. Morning editions offered the workforce a view of overnight news and provided up-to-date sports and finance information. But in 1989, circulation began to fall off for the morning papers too. This trend has continued to the present time.
Today, Americans get their news from the following sources: TV 66%, newspapers 41%, radio 34% and Internet 31%. Computers have changed the information landscape more than the numbers might suggest, since the tech world did not begin to compete in the news world until late in the 1990s. An indication of the growing importance of the worldwide web as a serious contender is that younger Americans prefer this method of gathering information. As an example, 55% of those born before 1946 read a paper the previous day while only 27% of those born after 1977 make the same claim.
Of course, advertising revenues are tied to circulation, and a drop in readers means fewer dollars from ads; the result is less money to run the operation. This affects the editorial, because reporter staffs are costly. And a change here drives readers to other information sources as more syndicated articles appear throughout the paper. As the cost of paper increases single copy and subscription prices climb, chasing away more people.
Some papers, like the Los Angeles Times, have reduced the width of the pages. It looks strange, being only the width of a tabloid paper while being as long as a standard one. And it feels strange, because the thickness of the paper has shrunk due to the loss or reduction of sections such as: of employment, real estate, cars, supermarkets, department stores and more. The papers have online versions but have not figured out how to make money with this business model.
Will your favorite newspaper stay alive? That’s hard to say. However, those who want news will find a new ways to get it. That’s why you’re reading this article online. Right?