“The Decline in Newspapers: A Closer Look” Joseph Ahrens

It is not a surprise that newspapers have been failing in the past few decades. The birth of the internet manifested several different ways companies, groups, and individuals could reach out to others. News outlets saw the internet as a new opportunity. Media outlets grew profits by giving out news through online articles via the internet because it was the cheapest and quickest way to make a buck. As a result, newspaper sales declined dramatically. Nobody seemed interested in reading paper printed news anymore; it seemed tedious and a waste of money. In a single household, copies of print newspaper would stack and pile up in the corner of a room each and every day. The daily task would be to pile paper up once more in the recycling bin to pave way for newer papers. With the use of the internet, however, all of that has changed. Readers can now read an article with a click on a mouse or a tap on a screen without having to waste countless pieces of paper and risking paper cuts. There are more reasons for the decline in newspapers, though, for good reasons and bad. In recent years, the decline has dazed many journalists as readers do not seem too interested in reading papers. The reason is that internet access, advertising, corporate ownership, and social media are playing as huge contributors to the decline in newspaper production.

The invention of the internet meant losses in revenue in print newspaper. According to Michael Barthel’s “Newspaper: Fact Sheet” in his research on newspaper sales at the Pew Research Center, weekday and Sunday newspaper circulation fell approximately 7% and 4% respectively in 2015, the biggest decline since 11% and 8% in 2010. Although a rise in 2013 displays a make up for a portion of the losses, the decline resumed afterwards, and circulation went down much more rapidly in 2014 and 2015 compared to the losses from 2004 to 2010. In short, newspaper circulation has been declining for the whole decade. In an interview with William Welch, a retired journalist from USA Today, he mentions that as the internet grows, advertisers will want to change their tactics on where and how they want to advertise to gain further profit. Digitally communicating information is cheap and fast, so appeals to advertisers. Given a reason why newspaper circulation is declining, he says, “The lower cost and data available from digital advertising has been attractive to businesses who once advertised regularly in newspapers. That decline in advertising has meant a decline in revenue.” Advertisers become unwilling to sell their ads in print newspapers due to the popularity of digital media. It is new, it is fast, and it is trending. Any business not willing to take advantage of such a scenario would simply not succeed.

Advertisers are the real customers for newspapers as advertising accounts for most of their income. Companies rely heavily on the income coming from advertisers because readers tend to not have the incentive to pay for information that can be easily found free elsewhere, despite the possibility of consuming faulty information. Some companies like The New York Times have been successful in having consumers pay for subscriptions to its news, but many other companies have failed. Craigslist, a free commercial site for small businesses and individuals, started advertising for free and outcompeted newspapers. Those who would normally have to pay a price to receive a section of a newspaper would instead be able to do it for free on Craigslist. Naturally, advertisers would capitalize on a free advertising website. Welch mentions that “newspapers failed to respond to Craigslist until it was too late. Now no one would think of buying a classified newspaper ad to sell an item, or hire a worker, or seek customers for their business.” As a result, print newspaper revenue has met with consistent declines. In addition, people receive their many news stories from extremely popular social media platforms like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. Aggregator sites like The Huffington Post, BuzzFeed and many others run their businesses by creating summaries and stories using reports of other news sites. These aggregators have risen sharply in popularity and through advertising, make millions of dollars. Without newspapers, corporations will also receive losses since newspapers had earned them large profits in the past. Now corporations that own newspapers are forced to look for other sources for profit. To milk out as many dollars as they can to support their business, regular news websites have come up with ways that tend to discourage readers from their sites. Things like auto-play videos, pop-up ads, and articles with multiple pages give more power to the click from consumers to make further profit, but it only helps so much.

Corporate ownership within the industry incapacitates the ability to provide the community with the essential information and journalism to support a democracy. In Frank Blethen’s article “The Consequences of Corporate Ownership,” he talks about the “disinvestment and lack of community connection that ownership concentration has brought us” by essentially arguing that because financial investors and owners must maximize profits and keep stock prices high, true journalism and community service lose their value. He explains that his employer, The Seattle Times, profit is necessary for financial stability in order to keep the business alive. For other companies, profit is to be maximized for personal wealth and stock price boosts. Publishers and editors for journalism do not get rewarded for their services, and newspaper CEO’s and other leaders are being hired while lacking a background in news. Another factor goes into the question of what readers want: whether to read about a tedious topic or an exciting heart-wrenching story. Blethen accentuates, “‘If it bleeds, it leads’ is more true today than ever.” A variety of opinions and voices are required to contribute to a democracy for it to function well. An independent press will need a staff that is decentralized from the corporation they work in. If they merely speak out what they are only allowed to in order to make sales, then only a narrow range of opinions will be said and heard. Blethen further emphasizes that the biggest issue in the industry is the lack of coverage of important topics. He says, “I believe the concentration of newspaper ownership, the control now wielded by financial-institution investors and its impact and implications, is one of the most important stories of our time.” He talks about the lobbying of the FCC and regulatory agencies and the repealing of the “limited ban on cross-ownership of newspapers and television stations in the same community,” then further questions why larger newspaper corporations do not talk about the issue.

On a side note, social media has been a turning point for all news, including how it is conveyed and how people interpret the news on social media platforms. People are now able to record what they see and hear by posting on their walls about an event that has occurred. Facebook and Twitter allow for people to talk to each other as things happen in real-time. Doug Stanglin and Greg Toppo’s “When News Breaks, Social Media Often There First” talks about the amazing way social media can talk to the masses about real-time news. An airplane crashes and people are able to talk about it as it is happening before their eyes. They talk about a man in the midst of the crash texting: “I just crash landed at SFO. Tail ripped off. Most everyone seems fine. I’m ok. Surreal….” According to Stanglin and Toppo, they even mention the man included a photo of the airplane in ruins, receiving over thirty-thousand retweets in the post. They say that not only does social media get there first, “it can often provide critical information in the first moments of a tragedy.” Social media gives people the amazing ability to talk to one another while events occur as well. Such an amazing piece of technological platforming would disadvantage traditional news media, which cannot respond as quickly. More people are finding that social media is much more exciting than the average, bland newspaper because of the real-time experience. But there is a downside to how people use social media for news. Welch establishes that users can adjust their online experience to align with their viewpoints, rather than what they dislike seeing. “It allows people to think they are getting a broad view of information when in fact they are seeing only a narrow slice, and sometimes one driven by ideological extremists,” he asserts. For the most part, social media is not a credible source for the news.

The newspaper business is, without a doubt, declining slowly as time passes by. Newspaper publishers have tried, in their desperation, different ways to manage production and make profit at the same time, though proving fruitless in the end. With the advancement of the internet, baits for advertising, profit plans for corporate owners, and social media, not only newspapers but news and journalism as a whole are subject to change. How citizens want to see their news is entirely up to them, but the media not only reflects upon what the readers want but it also shapes it. So perhaps prospects may not look so bad for print newspapers if they use their influence as an opportunity. However, with all the free information accessible on the internet, it is possible that readers may never want to pay a cent for news sites. Advertising will most likely stay attracted to what the internet offers and move further away from print newspapers. Based on Welch’s examination of the industry, some companies have a strategy to pick newspapers back up, but according to him, “At best, that is a play to wring the last dollars out of print before it is no longer profitable.” Overall, the print newspaper business looks very bleak.






Works Cited

Barthel, Michael. “Newspapers: Fact Sheet.” Pew Research Center: Journalism & Media, Pew Research Center, 15 Jun. 2016, www.journalism.org/2016/06/15/newspapers-fact-sheet/.

Blethen, Frank. “The Consequences of Corporate Ownership.” Nieman Reports, Ann Marie Lipinski, www.niemanreports.org/articles/the-consequences-of-corporate-ownership/.

Stanglin, Doug, and Greg Toppo. “When News Breaks, Social Media Often There First.” Gannett News Service, 7 Jul. 2013, SIRS Issues Researcher, sks.sirs.com.ezproxy.waketech.edu/webapp/article?artno=0000354567&type=ART.

Welch, William. Interview. By Joseph Ahrens. 1 Nov. 2016