Fading Away

Hardly a month will go by without some sort of lament from journalists about how their customers are fading away. People are finding other sources for their news, and the ranks of the faithful have been disappearing at an ever increasing rate.

This news article reports that circulation fell about 2.5% in the past 6 months, which is one of the worst periods for the industry in the past 20 years.

Most of the stories Iíve read about this trend blame wanton bias on the part of the readers. The common wisdom seems to be that people will turn away from news sources that actually tells it like it is, and instead theyíll seek out comforting news venues which will reinforce their own slanted vision of the world. Itís remarkable that the Reuters article to which I linked avoids doing this.

The reason why people started to turn away from the dailies seems simple enough to me. Cable news channels sped up the information cycle, allowing people to get their info hours before the newspapers were printed. Itís accelerated in recent years because the Internet does the same thing, but faster still.

(This isnít to say that bias doesnít play a part in it, but I think the Liberal bias that permeates most news organizations is doing more to destroy the industry than anything their readers are doing.)

Whatís rather interesting is how the major newspapers are handling the loss of prestige and influence. The local channels here in Columbus, Ohio have been inundated with ads for The New York Times in recent months. This is amusing in a variety of ways. The first is how the people in the commercials keep repeating how influential and prestigious the NYT is, something that the article I linked to above goes a long way towards discrediting. Itís also amusing to speculate how many of the editors, columnists and journalists who work for the Times could find the state of Ohio on the map. If these guys are paying to advertise in flyover country then theyíre really desperate.

A second method to inflate their importance is how papers game the numbers when it comes to readership. Although they only 2.08 million copies every day, the editors at the NYT insist that they have a readership of over 5 million. The secret is in passed copies, or papers that are tossed aside after being read only to have someone else pick it up.

It might appear that print newspapers are an example of buggy whip technology, but I doubt that they will disappear tomorrow. After all, how is everyone out here in flyover country going to contain the mess when we clean the fish caught over the weekend?

I just came across another news story about dailies and how they’re trying to increase their customer base. In an effort to appeal to younger veiwers, they’re adding Japanese manga to the comic pages.

I don’t think this is going to work. You can get a lot more manga for free off of the Internet. Like Robin Goodfellow points out below, why pay for something that you can get faster and for no cost online?

7 thoughts on “Fading Away”

  1. Another factor is that so much news, especially news beyond the local horizon, has been amalgamated and conglomerated. The bulk of any average newspaper or TV news cast is composed of stories from wire services or written “based on” wire service stories. Thus, the news in the paper and the news on the TV is actually, for the most part, the SAME news. So there’s very little reason to wait longer and spend more money to read it.

  2. To prove James’ point, the NYTimes ran an article in the Magazine on August 15, 1999, “The Eminence of Excess” by Nina Munk, about architect Thierry Despont. The article discussed, inter alia, a house that Despont designed for Les Wexner, founder of the Limited, which house is about 10 mi. from where I sit at this moment in Columbus OH. This is from the article:

    “For Wexner, Despont constructed a 60,112-square-foot manse (three-quarters the size of the White House) on 340 goodly acres three hours from Cleveland.”

    Well, like I said the house is in suburban Columbus, but even then it is only 2.5 hrs from here to the Jake in downtown Cleveland. Alternatively, they could have said 2 hours from Cincinnati. Maybe they couldn’t spell Cincinnati.

  3. Wonder if there is a relationship between the numbers of lost readership and the death rate among the older generation of society. People are comfortable with the media they grew up with. As the dead wood media generation starts to depart the room, the base number of subscribers and purchasers is going to decline naturally. Wonder if Al Gore took that into consideration when he pushed to ‘wire the classrooms’? Horses didn’t disappear overnight from the public roads, it was a generational thing.

  4. The newspapers would be having trouble anyhow because of technological and demographic changes, but irresponsible managements have made the problem much worse by allowing political bias to permeate their news pages as well as their editorial columns.

    New “electronic paper” technologies are about to hit the market: these will make it much easier to read electronic documents in bright sunlight, in a subway car, or wherever. I predict a significant additional hit to newspaper readership and revenues, unless they do very smart things very quickly. Which they won’t.

  5. Everything you could want to know about the MSM, the decline of public opinion and audience regarding the MSM, what the MSM thinks of itself and its audience, and how it intends to wage the battle as it goes down fighting, can be found in the State of the Media – 2005 report of Journalism.org. This a report about the MSM commissioned by the MSM.

    The net of the report is that they bear no responsibility for the decline of “journalism”, it is due to factors beyond their control but which they are forced to adjust to, the audience that increasingly dismisses them as biased and inaccurate is too stupid to know anything about bias and inaccuracy, and the only solution to their problems is to be increasingly hostile to the Bush administration (no kidding).

  6. Another MSM problem is their general ineptness when they try to do anything in the online world. For example, I’ve been trying intermittantly for half an hour to use the NY Post link for the Ralph Peters article in the story below. Every time, it hangs up waiting for an ad for Michael Bloomberg.

    Either engineer your web pages to load the content in parallel with the ads, or write performance contracts with ad vendors requring them to provide downloads within a few seconds. Don’t allow every single ad supplier to make your website unusable.


  7. ‘T is my fondest hope the New York Times continues to publish. Whether for sale or available through the occassional pail dive, there’s always a need to pass the time and, perhaps, later in the day, to wrap up kitchen refuse.

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