Ross Mackenzie

Self-appointed experts continue to debate whether it's accurate and appropriate to term the wreckage of the U.S. and global economies a depression. You have spent nearly 50 years in newspapers. How do you describe their condition?

Anyone denying they're in a depression is smoking something -- or not paying attention. Across the country famous nameplates are struggling, bankrupt or defunct. Circulation has plummeted, and advertising along with it.

Perhaps the foremost example is the Boston Globe -- owned by The New York Times (itself the recent recipient of a quarter-billion-dollar infusion from a Mexican financier). Circulating in what may be the nation's most literate community and long a prestige newspaper property, the Globe has been on the market for several years with hardly a suitor. To enhance the Globe's allure for potential buyers, The Times reportedly is throwing into any prospective deal its 18-percent interest in the Boston Red Sox.

Sort of like Cracker Jack -- you buy the product, in this case a newspaper, and you get a toy along with it. Amazing. Why has this depression happened with such suddenness?

It's not sudden at all. Since peaking in the late '60s and early '70s, combined daily circulation has declined both as a hard number and -- more sharply -- as a percentage of the nation's growing population. Advertising rates are based on circulation, so advertising returns have accompanied circulation down. To borrow a sociological term from the compulsory-busing days, in the past several years circulation and advertising reached the tipping point, and what had been a gradual decline became a plunge.


A perfect storm of forces -- some widely remarked, some less so.

Frequently noted are television, of course, and the Internet. The shift away from blue-collar agricultural and manufacturing labor that helped kill off large afternoon dailies. Women moving heavily into the workforce. (Datum: Newspapers tried for years to target 18- to 35-year-old women to ramp up circulation, never minding that this is one of the culture's busiest demographics -- with minimal time for newspapers.)

And the factors less often discussed?

Ross Mackenzie

Ross Mackenzie lives with his wife and Labrador retriever in the woods west of Richmond, Virginia. They have two grown sons, both Naval officers.

Be the first to read Ross Mackenzie's column. Sign up today and receive delivered each morning to your inbox.