Your newspaper died? People don’t care

March 13, 2009

I hope I’m not violating any journalistic obligations toward objectivity by calling the following piece of news from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press rather depressing.

The group said that fewer than half of Americans, 43 percent, say that losing their local paper would hurt civic life in their community “a lot.” Just 33percent say that they would miss reading the paper a lot if it went away.

And that’s the good news! According to the study, 42 percent of respondents answered “not much” or “not at all” when asked if they would miss their papers. That’s not the kind of news that inspires folks at papers threatened with shutdown like the Tucson Citizen, Seattle Post-Intelligencer and San Francisco Chronicle, not to mention ones that have shut down like the Rocky Mountain News.

The numbers are more optimistic if you count on responses from people who regularly read the paper:

More than half of regular newspaper readers (56%) say that if the local newspaper they read most often no longer published — either in print or online — it would hurt the civic life of the community a lot; an almost identical percentage (55%) says they would personally miss reading the paper a lot if it were no longer available.

But the world is full of people who don’t regularly read the paper, and that’s part of the problem.

We would say more, but instead we’ll boil it down to “Grumble, grumble, grumble” and just leave you with the sourcing of the study:

These findings are based on the most recent installment of the weekly News Interest Index, an ongoing project of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. The index, building on the Center’s longstanding research into public attentiveness to major news stories, examines news interest as it relates to the news media’s coverage. The weekly survey is conducted in conjunction with The Project for Excellence in Journalism’s News Coverage Index, which monitors the news reported by major newspaper, television, radio and online news outlets on an ongoing basis. In the most recent week, data relating to news coverage were collected from March 2-8, 2009 and survey data measuring public interest in the top news stories of the week were collected March 6-9, 2009 from a nationally representative sample of 1,001 adults.

(Photo: Reuters)

16 comments

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[...] quoted a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press in a recent article directly relating to the decline of local papers. And it’s surprising to see the apathy that [...]

I think it’s terribly sad to see the painful transition the Seattle P-I is undergoing. Not least of which is the jobs that will be lost. But, the world moves on — and there’s no standing in the way of technology when it can provide a better experience for less money… Online niche sites and aggregators like http://www.newsnuts.com/local/seattle.as px will improve and grow to fill the void.

“But the world is full of people who don’t regularly read the paper, and that’s part of the problem.”

This “problem” implies there’s a value to papers that can’t be filled elsewhere.

The world is also full of people who get their news from other sources and see newspapers as outdated and slow to adapt to change.

Reuters, NYT, The Guardian, The Oregonian…these are a few notable news outlets that have grasped the power of online news (maybe) in time to save themselves. But, seriously, the writing’s been on the wall long enough that everyone should have seen it.

Media evolves. It’s neither good nor bad. It’s simply going to be different.

Posted by Ken | Report as abusive

I am so happy to see these papers fading away. Almost 100% of the editors are registered as Democrats, so their view of mainstream simply isn’t. We could even see the NY Times go bankrupt this year. It would be great to see this paper fail. I haven’t read these liberal papers in years and I suspect that most of those who do read them won’t miss their propaganda in the long run anyway.

I am able to stay much more informed and learn what I want to learn, from other sources. Three cheers for online media!

Posted by Robert | Report as abusive

In the age of 24/7 news (not that it is a good thing) printed papers are often stale, information wise, before going to print.

As for the online newspaper that is great but getting subscription fees can be tough. There are plenty of news sites that are free though filled with ads.

I haven’t bought a local paper, other than the Sunday one, in years. Between the local channnels and cable news stations I’m burned out on news by the time the paper is delivered.

Posted by Coyote | Report as abusive

Not all that surprising when not even three fifths of regular readers feel the paper is vital to the community or themselves.

Posted by Searcher | Report as abusive

The nitwiws imply that they get their “news” from TV. Pre-pacakged sound-bytes surrounded by entertainment and “happy talk.” Throw in the weather and traffic and hey, “That’s all I need! Why should I care about what’s really going on? Why should I read — it’s hard. I’d rather watch TV.”

The demise of newspapers reflects the reduced demand for insight and reflection by the public; newspapers are dull in comparison to TV. There’s no blood; no car chases; no mobs of people chanting and carrying signs.

The nabobs of digital-is-everything assert it’s a sign of the times — that newspapers are like dinosaurs. Perhaps they’re right. But people aren’t reading as much either — whether they want to or can — and that’s just a shame.

Posted by Dude | Report as abusive

I’m gonna miss those newspapers terribly. They are useful for collecting hair clippings when I give myself a haircut. They’re also indispensable for changing my car’s oil so I don’t leave a mess on the garage floor.

Seriously, guys. Fewer trees cut down for information that’s obsolete within 24 hours. That’s a plus. Let the media evolve.

Posted by Michael | Report as abusive

Too bad the newspapers didn’t plan for this long ago like the oil and tire companies did when they bought and dismantled rail systems in metro areas so folks had to drive cars use oil and buy tires, or like GM that squashed the electric car years ago. Of course these companies will eventually become obsolete – as we are seeing – but they survived a good 30-50 years longer than they should have without making important breakthroughs commercially available. The newspapers and print media companies should have sacked the Internet long ago, or at least patented online news and then squashed it. LOL.

Posted by triplab | Report as abusive

If reporting revealed some real knowledge then it would be more profitable to read. Looks like the paper is always brown nosing those who participate in the most predatory policies. Its time that the public knew how the system really works and what little our government officials really know about the areas of government and economics in which they should be expert. Change would be good toward more specialization and fewer popularity contests. We don’t need lecturing and vague generalizations but more knowledge, knowing what is happening, news!

Posted by Mary Equi | Report as abusive

As a kid, I watched a show about a fictional newspaper in Chicago called “Lou Grant”. This topic came up on the show as CNN had just gone on the air at about the same time. The point was that newspapers were supposed to be a venue to go beyond the headlines and investigate deeper into what happened and why. The problem is that a lot of papers never understood this and kept trying to compete in the 24 hour news cycle of bullet points and sound bites which was a losing battle. Those who did adapt found out that this style of journalism is expensive and risky in that you have to find something beyond what is on CNN, etc.

the problem is that the market for the deeper news is growing smaller and smaller as people live lives of fractured moments with no time to sit down and read a detailed article requiring focused concentration.

But there will always be some of us who want this depth of analysis. The trick is to find us and cater to our needs. There will always be voracious readers, even though our numbers seem to grow smaller and smaller.

Posted by SinoPhoto | Report as abusive

My family always had a daily subscription to the St Louis Post-Dispatch. I read that paper all my life and I am now in my early 60s. However, I have become so tired of supporting a paper that cares nothing about my values or ideals that I recently cancelled my subscription. Their “news” is slanted to imply that anything from the Democratic Party is “progressive” and anything Republican is to be ridiculed. Fine. They have the right to do that. However, I feel that I can no longer listen to, or support with my dollars, their editorial stance.

The article talks about “local papers” and “community papers”, and then mentions “San Francisco Chronicle”. I’m sorry but I’ve never seen this as a “local” or “community” paper. We have local papers here such as the “Bay Area Guardian” and the “SF Weekly”. Also we have community papers here such as the “Palo Alto Daily”, or the “Mountain View Voice”. These are real local and community papers, filled with the news and events that aren’t on the AP wires.

Posted by Andrew Bachmann | Report as abusive

It seems the news outlets did this to themselves. In the chase to profits, the newspapers forgot that educating their readers was a necessary element for their own long term health and survival. Now that the public has lost the ability to read beyond OMG! and BFF!, there really isn’t a need for papers anymore.

To be fair though, let’s not drop all of the blame in the laps of the papers. They didn’t start this fire. We can blame all the parents who fail to sit down with their children to help them with their homework, the politicians who line their pockets with money instead of spending on the education system, the corporations and entertainment media, who spend limitless advertising dollars promoting shallow consumerism, baby-boomers, who have lost all sense of the principles they stood for in their youths, and who’ve raised a generation of pampered and spoiled underachievers, market-makers who make markets for themselves, and anyone not aforenamed, who has elected to sell out the principles of civil society for personal profit, pleasure, or other short-term gain.

Far in the future, the loss of independent news reporting will be viewed at as an indicator of a society in its decline. It breaks the heart to know we’ve passed the point of being able to save ourselves, despite the desperate, last ditch efforts of hard working, benevolent role models, like Obama, who are always called upon for rescue once the ship is well beyond saving.

Posted by Steven | Report as abusive

Serves them right it’s karma, their smear campaign against hemp, killed it, now it’s their turn to die.

Posted by jOEBANANA | Report as abusive

My local newspaper for many years was the LA times, and I on occasion encountered long detailed investigative reports that were neither entertaining or easy reading, but were indispensible in elaborating a complex problem, or delivering insight on major issues.

Healthcare reform, the Prison Union issues that bedevil’s california politcs, come to mind. There are no other sources out there that do investigative journalism on the scale and depth of the big dailies. The NYT and the domestic wiretapping story for another example. In the real world, Ignorance is not bliss.

Posted by nyongesa | Report as abusive

The local paper, Caller-Times, revamped its size and coverage to a point where it is the equivilent of the, throw away weekend advertisement papers which we use to find on our front lawn or Friday. The daily paper carries one page front and back of national and international news, one page of local news and mostly adds in the front section. The second section has one page front and back of sports and one page of business news. The third section carries three pages of “society” and “ladies only”, their description, not mine, one page front and back of comics comingled with adds. The forth section carries about 4 pages front and back of classified. There are no TV listings. I have been a newspaper reader for 60 years but now I have to go to the internet or TV for news and it has no depth or analysis as use to be provided by the newspapers. I think that I pay a subscription rate of about $30 per month including the Sunday edition. I am seriously considering cancelling my subscription as it no longer supplies me lthis the quality and quantity of news for which I subscribe.

Posted by Edward Hogan | Report as abusive