Monday, February 19, 2007

Bleak Future for Newspapers

It's Red All Over.
The news about newspapers could hardly be more dismal: falling circulation, repeated rounds of layoffs, disappearing ads and a chain of bad earning reports. It's an unsavory stew of ills, one that shows little prospect of becoming more appetizing.

Many journalists--and having spent the first slice of my career reporting for the New York Times, I still regard myself as one--would prefer to blame the nasty folks in their corporate offices. By this reckoning, it was the layoffs that degraded the quality that cost the readers that led the advertisers to flee that caused more layoffs and so forth.

That smacks of a vicious circle, or perhaps more of a perfect storm that began with the loss of readership. The Washington Post, a model of journalistic excellence, has lost 14% of its circulation since 2000. Across the industry, circulation has been dropping for 20 years, and worse, the pace of decline seems to be accelerating. In the 12 months ending in September of last year, the 50 largest papers lost 3.2% of their daily circulation. Only two newspapers in the top 25--the two New York tabloids--grew circulation during this period, a statement in itself.

Perhaps most worrisome is the loss of young readers, who have drifted away steadily since the early 1970s, long before there was an Internet, when more than 70% of 18- to 34-year-old Americans read a daily newspaper. Last year that figure stood at 35%.
Forget the laughable assertion the Washington Post is a model for excellence. I have the obvious reason for Mr. Rattner why circulation continues to plumment: Liberal Bias.

Until that problem is remedied, expect the losses to pile up.

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