Yesterday's News

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For KCRW, I'm Nick Madigan of the Baltimore Sun with Minding the Media.

People just are not reading newspapers the way they used to. In 1980, 62 million Americans read a daily paper. Last year, that number was down to 55 million; and in the 26 years since 1980, almost 300 newspapers have folded.

National circulation figures released yesterday show the print media industry continues to be hit by competition from the Internet and other new forms of technology.

Daily circulation dropped an average of 2.8 percent in the six months that ended on Sept. 30, compared with the same period last year. Circulation at Sunday papers was down 3.4 percent, on average.

Among the few papers to announce good news was the New York Post, which has been trying to overtake its bitter rival, the New York Daily News, for years and finally did so. The irreverent tabloid, which specializes in crime and celebrity news, vaulted over both the Daily News and the Washington Post to become the nation's fifth-largest newspaper.

But the Los Angeles Times saw its daily circulation drop 8 percent. It's down on Sundays by 6 percent. The L.A. Daily News also is suffering: Its parent company, controlled by Denver media mogul William Dean Singleton, today announced the layoffs of the Daily News's publisher and 20 other employees. Singleton, who also owns the Pasadena Star-News, is known as an avid cost-cutter.

The blues affecting the newspaper industry run across the board.

The country's three largest dailies, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, all lost circulation in the latest surveys. So did The Washington Post and the paper I work for.

The Web site of the Public Relations Society of America says newspapers are "under siege from a number of fronts, including industry consolidation, Wall Street's demand for ever-higher profits, the explosion of blogs and other Web-based information channels."

The site quoted Chris Lopez, who in August lost his job as editor of the Contra Costa Times (also owned by Singleton), as saying he mourns the fact that newspapers appear to be dying.

But, Lopez says, "I still have time to celebrate this print product that I put out every day. So I'm going to celebrate it with my work, and I'm going to celebrate it with my journalism as long as they let me keep doing it."

Chuck Salter, writing in the current issue of Fast Company, says the newspaper industry "has come to resemble a once-mighty tree now in sad, slow decline."

"The percentage of adults who read a daily during the week has plummeted to scarcely half the population. Not surprisingly, total ad revenue, which saw double-digit increases in the 1970's, was up just 1.5 percent last year."

At the same time, online ad revenues are up 31 percent since 2004. While those revenues, roughly $2 billion, are still dwarfed by the $47 billion the print media takes in, the trend is clearly in the Internet's favor.

Consequently, Salter says, newspapers "have been laying off employees, offering buyouts, shuttering foreign bureaus, and cutting costs with a vigor they once reserved for exploring meaty stories."

"What do you do," Salter asks, "when your core product is, literally, yesterday's news?

On MediaPost's OnlineSpin blog, Dave Morgan writes it's "make-or-break time for newspapers."

"They know that their future is now and that they had better figure it out fast. They know that their chance to dominate local online advertising... is looking slimmer and slimmer."

Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, a research organization that evaluates the performance of the press, said that on its face, the roughly 3 percent drop overall in newspaper circulation "is not a huge number."

"But if each year the newspaper business loses 3 percent of its circulation, it doesn't take very long for this to become critical."

This is Nick Madigan of the Baltimore Sun, Minding the Media on KCRW.



Nick Madigan