Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Some notes about newspapers

I made these notes after crunching numbers in Martin P. Wattenberg, Is Voting for Young People? (Third Edition). New York: Pearson, 2012. The numbers in brackets are page numbers.

Newspapers were in decline long before the Internet came along. In 1957, 76 per cent of Americans read a newspaper every day. Twenty years later, that number had dropped to 63 per cent.  The number hovered just above 50 per cent through the 1980s and early 1990s. Readership finally, permanently, dropped below half in 1996 – still in the pre-Internet age for most people -- and touched bottom at 37 per cent in 2000, when high speed Internet started becoming fairly easily accessible in cities, but only for desktops and laptops. There was a bit of a dead cat bounce through the 2000s, but the reality is that modern newspapers had lost half their readers before news web sites became available to most people. Smart phones, iPads, facebook, twitter and easily accessible free wireless didn’t kill newspapers. They were already dead. (11) The Internet could be blamed by newspaper editors and publishers to cover up years of poor management and disastrous leveraged buyouts that were usually paid for with newsroom jobs and local coverage. In fact, if the Internet hadn’t come along, most newspapers would have had to do some serious soul-searching to determine why their readers had abandoned them, or, to be more accurate, had never acquired the habit of reading them. For example, in the first four years of this century, just 19 per cent of Canadians aged 23 to 31 read a newspaper every day. But older people were still buying them. In the same years, 72 per cent of people in their late 60s and early 70s were regular newspaper readers.(13) People weren’t walking away from newspapers. They had never read them in the first place. And young people had abandoned newspapers before the arrival of the Internet. In the early 1980s, 59 per cent of people between the ages of 18 and 29 read newspapers. That’s 20 per cent more than all of the people who read them now. (And Canadians were always miles behind the Swedes, with 90 per cent of Swedes in the 18-29 age group being regular newspaper readers in the early '80s. (Some 96 percent of Swedish seniors read them). By the early years of the 2000s, the figure for young Swedes was down to 37 per cent.) The problem was not just confined to Canada. The newspaper, throughout the developed world, went into a death spiral when Pierre Trudeau was still working on the Constitution and Gerald Ford was president of the United States.  

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