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Decline of Newspapers Gravity of Print Industry Importance of Newspapers

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In his chat with Washington Post readers, Pulitzer Prize winner Eugene Robinson remained remarkably optimistic about the future of newspapers, but acknowledged the gravity of the matter. First radio and then television failed to kill newspapers (as had been predicted), but this is a more serious challenge, wrote Robinson.

The common perception among many for the decline of the newspaper industry is that the internet is a better product and is taking away from the newspapers' readership. While this is partially true, the main culprit is the way in which the internet provides easier access for advertisers. The growing popularity of sites like craigslist has significantly lowered the demand for ads. In addition, the slumping economy and the relative ease of the internet as an alternative source of news has led many people who are strapped for cash to cut the luxury of buying the print edition.

When the economy is bad and the luxury of a newspaper is one of the first costs to go, news stand sales and circulation decline, and as Robinson said, "It becomes a wobbly stool."

Many optimists in the industry note that more people are reading newspaper content than ever before as increasing web traffic on newspaper sites has created a net increase in readership. In addition, some of the drop in circulation has been intentional because papers are limiting their output to focus on where distribution is most profitable.

Newspaper circulation has been steadily in decline for several years but the drop increased by 80% in 2008 according to figures released by the Audit Bureau of Circulations. In April of 2009, the average drop in circulation was an astounding 7.1% in weekday sales.

The decline of newspapers is part of a larger shift in the creation of knowledge that some, like Andrew Keen, feel are having catastrophic effects. In his book, "Cult of the Amateur", Keen speaks of the negative externalities of web 2.0 as assaulting our economy, our culture, and our values. The problem of the current state of the internet where content is voluntarily created by users without compensation is that it prevents the people who are responsible for creating the information, from being compensated from their work. This will not benefit newspapers in any way either.

A good deal of the Pandora's box that newspapers currently find themselves in was created by the newspapers themselves who initially found it beneficial to put some of their content online. Analysts have warned in recent years that by offering steadily less in print, newspapers were inviting readers to stop buying. Walter Isaacson ascribes an overeagerness to test out a new idea without looking at the consequences on the current problem. Perhaps it appeared to [be a good idea] when Web advertising was booming and every half-sentient publisher could pretend to be among the clan who 'got it' by chanting the mantra that the ad-supported Web was "the future."

There are several consequences of the decline of newspapers to the journalism industry. The print media does the essential news collecting that internet and broadcast reports eventually borrow from and the contribution of those reporters' skills are invaluable. This is information created through, The laborious and expensive work of experienced newspaper reporters diligently working their beats over the course of years. Not hours, years. Newspapers have always had an important role in keeping democracies in check and have helped break many scandals. Thomas Jefferson once said, "If I had to choose between government without newspapers, and newspapers without government, I wouldn't hesitate to choose the latter."


[1] Convo with Eugene Robinson

[2] Perez-Pena. Newspaper Circulation Continues to Decline Rapidly. New York Times. 28 Oct 2008, late ed: B4.

[3] Chicago Sun-Times Reports Positive Circulation Performance Significantly Outpacing the Industry. Business Wire.

[4] Cardin, Benjamin. A Plan to Save Our Free Press. Washington Post. 3 Apr 2009: Op-Ed.

[5] Keen, Andrew. The Cult of the Amateur. 26 Oct 2006. The Great Seduction: The Cult of the Amateur. Promotional Blog. 10 May 2009. <>

[6] Volti, Rudi. Society and Technological Change. New York: St. Martin's Press: 2001. 5th ed.

[7] Marx, Leo. Does Improved Technology Mean Progress? Technology and the Future. Teich, Albert H (ed.) New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993. pg 5.

[8] Isaacson, Walter. How to Save Your Newspaper: A Modest Proposal. Time. 16 Feb 2009 (173:6): 30-33.

[9] Cardin, Benjamin. A Plan to Save Our Free Press. Washington Post. 3 Apr 2009: Op-Ed.

More about this author: Orrin Konheim

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