The Decline of Newspapers

Posted: Jul 20, 2009 12:01 AM

Editors' Note: Every month, Townhall Magazine highlights some of the outstanding blogs written by users in our community. The following is an entry from William Dannenmaier and appears in the July issue of Townhall Magazine.

What is happening to the newspaper industry? Denver’s Rocky Mountain News is out of business. The Tribune Company, owners of the Chicago Tribune and the L.A. Times, declared bankruptcy. Six other metropolitan newspapers and 23 television stations are all owned by the same company—and all have financial problems. The New York Times is in deepening trouble. The Miami Herald has been put up for sale. The list goes on and on.

The New York Times reported that a survey of 500 newspapers across the country revealed a drop in circulation of 4.6 percent. Among the most heavily hit were the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Houston Chronicle, Boston Globe, Newark Star-Ledger, Philadelphia Enquirer, Orange County Register and Detroit News.

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Newsweek has dropped its “guaranteed” circulation to advertisers by half a million. Time has dropped its expected circulation by 750,000.

While these MSM outlets have declined in readership, the general population has been increasing.

Rupert Murdock, a major newspaper publisher, has proclaimed that “there has never been more hunger for news.” That is true. But we are not getting it from newspapers.

Too often, newspaper articles are inadequately researched or give a biased, one-sided account of the news. The worst papers’ print articles are misleading or completely false. Bloggers and Internet reporters have written countless articles bringing light to both bias and inaccuracies that appear in newspapers. Is this to blame for the fall of newspapers?

I believe that people will read the news that interests and affects them.

Our local newspaper had an editor for many years who routinely reported on school board meetings. He also printed articles submitted by our elected leaders, both state and national, in which they explained how and why they voted on different issues. The paper also included obituaries, court reports and sports along with other local news. People purchased and read it. Now, following a series of short-term editors, half of the paper appears to be dedicated to high school sports with few articles on local news, and readership has declined significantly.

It is time for the “major” newspapers to accept that they cannot compete with the Internet for major, national and international news. We get that faster—and more accurately—on the Internet than is possible for them to print it. Such stories are reported on an hourly basis. But there are many local happenings that people would be interested in reading and, I believe, would purchase newspapers for.

Would legitimately fair-and-balanced reporting help turn things around? As a daily reader of the Wall Street Journal, I often find that the paper is reporting on events that I read about on the Internet the day before. However, their balanced editorial page, presenting thoughtful articles, keeps me reading and purchasing the paper.