Mommy, What’s a Newspaper?

This morning, I took a quick browse at a Sunday newspaper—and realized that the last time I’d actually looked at a newspaper was about four months ago, in the late SUMMER.

I used to read the newspaper everyday; now I’ve become conscious that it actually plays almost no role in my life anymore.

Apparently, I’m not alone.

Today, in the Times of London (on-line, of course), Andrew Sullivan surveys the carnage:

From Hil-lary to Barack, from John Edwards’s love child to Sarah Palin’s Down’s syndrome child, from John McCain’s wild lunges for relevance to the first black president, it was the kind of year in which circulation should have boomed. If you live for a story, this year was an embarrassment of riches.

And yet the decline didn’t just continue. It accelerated.

Between March and September the 500 biggest newspapers in America reported an average circulation decline of 4.6%. In six months. That’s close to a 10% decline per year. No newspapers showed any but fractional gains. It is therefore a near-certainty that many towns and cities in America will no longer have a newspaper after the down-turn. And that may apply not just to small names but to some big ones as well. The Los Angeles Times, for example, has gone from a circulation of 1.1m to 739,000 since the turn of the millennium. Its staff has been halved. Morale has never been lower.

Landmark names – the news equivalent of General Motors, Chrysler and Ford – are increasingly on the chopping block. The Chicago Tribune has seen its weekday circulation collapse by 8% in the past year.

Think about that. Barack Obama’s hometown newspaper can’t even keep circulation up.

The Chicago Tribune is the newspaper industry’s canary in the coal mine.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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