The N. J. Star Ledger is poised to cut it’s staff drastically , 45% of it’s editorial employees having accepted a voluntary buy-out. The venerable newspaper, which has a circulation of about 320,000, has suffered losses for three straight years and is struggling to stay afloat. This is only one example of the difficulties facing the newspaper industry which seems to be undergoing a period of grave turmoil. Amost every newspaper of the Top 25 has suffered a decline in circulation , the Star Ledger having lost 10.4 % to drop to 316,0280. The situation is reminiscent of a hundred years ago when there were too many newspapers competing for the same readers. As a result some newspapers closed down and others joined forces in order to survive. Today all newspapers are under seige because of changes in reading habits, TV and the World Wide Web.
Over twenty years ago, my friend Bill had said to me that newsapers were an anachronism and were on their way to becoming obsolete. He said that they represented an inefficient way of delivering the news and would soon be a thing of the past. It does seem like his prediction is on it’s way to coming true, doesn’t it ?
The signs have certainly been there for all to see.Newspaper circulation has been steadily declining as people read less and less. A couple of posts earlier I wrote about a N.J judge who was polling prospective jurors and found that exactly two out a hundred read the newspaper regularly. 2 out of 100 !! And who’s to say what they were reading ? Maybe just the sports pages ?
On the one hand, there’s no denying that newspapers are obsolescent. They are slow in getting the news to readers, wasteful and increasingly dependent on advertising. Most people can’t be bothered with reading the newspapers in order to get news. Television, particularly cable TV , is able to provide news almost as soon as it happens and computers put news and information at one’s fingertips. In addition, with both cable TV and the Internet, one is able to get just what one wants and the costs are not as apparent since cable and computers have other uses and are almost considered ” essential” by many. When you buy a newspaper, you also get a lot of information or news that you don’t need or want. Every Sunday, the first thing I do with the paper is to winnow out the ads , the business section and the travel section. Fully two -thirds of the paper goes directly into the re-cycling bin. Newspapers represent an enormous waste of paper, as well as the effort involved in printing , assembling and delivering it.
I know newspapers are on the way out, that they have to go, but I will mourn their passing. There is a pleasure in going out in the mornings and picking up the newspaper from the lawn. Reading the newspaper gives a certain delight which one cannot get from reading the news off a computer screen or listening to it on TV. The latter mode of getting the news also results in a narrowing of views. Depending on their politics, people view either CNN or Fox News, not both, and consequently become less tolerant of opposing views. I know that newspapers too have a definite editorial stance but they do have some columnists who provide an opposing viewpoint. I can’t help feeling that the increasing polarization of the American public is at least in part due to the fact that it gets its news ( and opinions) from TV and radio rather than from newspapers.
TV and computers provide instant news but they have their downside. Viewers / listeners get used to instant gratification ; they develop shorter attention spans and uncritically accept what they hear . As people read less and less, they seem to become less capable of sustained thinking and their powers of concentration take a hit.
While I accept that most newspapers will disappear sooner or later, I still don’t know exactly how things will shake out. What will happen to the newspaper carriers and the news stands ? Right now, newspapers are available freely online; will that continue to be the case or will they start charging for online access ? I presume they will , but how much ? And when will this happen ? Ten years down the line ? Twenty ? Whatever it is, I hope it is not soon. I love my newspaper!
P.S. What surprises me also is that even as newspapers are on the decline, magazine readership seems to be on the increase. It seems like there are more and more magazines available each year , many of them catering to niche readerships . ” English Garden”, ” Islands”, ” Chili News” and ” Wired” are among them.