One of my academic advisors used to say that any argument without numbers is a religious one. And we all know how productive they are.
Being a numbers jock and P-Chemist, that statement resonated with me. It still does.
But then I went into business, and for a while my job involved the quantitative prediction of consumer behavior. Entering into the social sciences like that, where there is no ideological bias, just a financial incentive to get the model right, was good for me. It trained me to look at the instrument that was used to derive the numbers. To ask if the questioner was asking the right questions.
So my brain perked up when I saw this article on the decline of newspapers:
Big whoop. After several statistical triple back-flips, we now know that 96 percent of newspaper reading is done in the printed product. That’s like talking about modern transportation by pointing out that 96 percent of buggy drivers use buggy whips. Hello? We switched to cars 100 years ago.
Writing on the Nieman Journalism Lab Web site, Martin Langveld made some valid statistical conclusions about newspaper readership. The problem is that he was asking the wrong questions. It isn’t about newspapers; it’s about news.
Seriously? Dissecting the habits of what pitiful few print readers are left? There’s a journalist that stupid?
That article makes a number of points that have been made on this site, including the strength of the papers ought to be in local coverage, and that we bloggers still get much of our news for commentary from traditional sources.
But back to the numbers. Nothing makes Mark Loundy’s point better than these graphs.
The comments under the graphs are also somewhat interesting. First, the tool who pointed to an editorial shift to the right (the right ?!?!?!?) as a cause for the decline of print, and then pointed out the LA Times hiring of token conservative Jonah Goldberg as a watershed got his logical posterior handed to him when another commenter pointed out that the date of Goldberg’s hiring corresponded with the only uptick in readership in over 2 decades. Since the numbers promptly slid down again, I can only assume that the new conservative readers attracted by Jonah soon tired of the rest of the paper, and figured that they could read the G-man online.
Second, all the musing over why 2006 was such a significant year when the Internet had been around since the late ’90s was interesting. Huffington Post’s launch somewhere around 2005 was mentioned as a possible catalyst, but one site of marginal news utility does not accelerate a trend as large as the one shown in those graphs.
Long-time readers of this site have been talking about what I call the dog-leg phenomenon for quite a while.
The first things I thought of to drive the downturn were demographic and financial.
As for demographics, if one counts the Boomers as those born after WWII, then 2006 marked the year that the advance wave turned 60. With early retirement, a big chunk of old fogies wedded to dead trees canceled their subscriptions to the big coastal papers and moved to Florida or Arizona. I’d like to see subscription numbers for retirement havens for the same time period to see if there is a slight uptick in subscriptions in those areas.
Financially, I first heard of Craigslist around 2005 or so. Craiglist has done more to undermine the financial stability of newspapers than any other organ. Classified advertising was the backbone of the local paper’s revenue stream in the ’70s and ’80s, and a big part of even the bigger papers’ finances. That is pretty much gone, now.
Any other thoughts as to why 2006 was the “knee” in the curve?