Remember stopping by a newsstand and looking over multiple front pages before deciding which paper to get?
There was a time when competing daily papers flooded newsstands in big cities. In 1870, the presses in New York City churned out 90 newspapers daily. When I worked for the Associated Press in San Francisco, the city had two dailies, the Examiner and Chronicle, and they also competed with the Oakland Tribune across the Bay and the San Jose Mercury to the south.
Now, like Seattle, most major cities are lucky to have one surviving major daily paper. In addition to big papers folding, many of the once numerous neighborhood and community papers here and around the country also have been shuttered, as Jean Godden recounted for Post Alley.
The Pew Research Center this week released a fact sheet with data that highlights the ongoing decline of newspapers. In addition to the frequently cited decline caused by Craigslist, bloggers, podcasts et al, along came a pandemic that was the final knife for more publications. While an increase in digital consumers is helping some newspapers, there is little overall good news for the industry and no easy answers on the horizon.
This is a troubling scenario for democracy and its goal of an informed citizenry, a topic widely debated. It’s also why sites like Post Alley are needed to help fill the growing news gap.
Here are some key findings reported by Pew:
CIRCULATION CONTINUES TO DECLINE: “The estimated total U.S. daily newspaper circulation (print and digital combined) in 2020 was 24.3 million for weekday and 25.8 million for Sunday, each down 6% from the previous year… Within this total circulation figure, weekday print circulation decreased 19% and Sunday print circulation decreased 14%.” Consider that 20 years ago, weekday circulation was 57.8 million
CIRCULATION REVENUE OUTPACES ADVERTISING: “The total estimated advertising revenue for the newspaper industry in 2020 was $8.8 billion, based on the Center’s analysis of financial statements for publicly traded newspaper companies. This is down 29% from 2019. Total estimated circulation revenue was $11.1 billion, compared with $11.0 billion in 2019.” Pew says this is the first year in its data that circulation revenue has been higher than advertising revenue.
WANT A JOB AS A JOURNALIST? “According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics, 30,820 people worked as reporters, editors, photographers, or film and video editors and operators in the newspaper industry in 2020. That is down 12% from 2019 and 57% from 2004. Median wages for editors in 2020 were about $50,000, while for reporters, the figure was about $36,000.” This may discourage journalism grads.
As if the Pew fact sheet on newspapers wasn’t depressing enough, I then spotted a report from the Nieman Lab on a study showing the troubling impact of fake news. Not surprisingly, pushing false information makes a difference — and not a good one. It may change how people act and can even create fake memories.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but the internet did it. That seems inevitable, in retrospect. Now, in internet time, what reporters do seems worse. Instead of creating a common narrative, we are stoking division. The news cycle seeks conflict.