Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Do Dropping Newspaper Circulations Impact Democracy?

Circulation numbers for newspapers are going down nationwide. A report in Editor & Publisher documents this trend. The Newspaper Association of America says daily circulation nationwide has dropped 2.1 percent in the last six months. The downward trend can also be seen with weekly newspapers in southwest Missouri.

Still, the decline in readership has some concerned about the future of our democracy. How do citizens stay informed? How can they fully understand the issues facing our country? How do the get the information they need to be an active citizen?

Some say Americans are going elsewhere for their news. Audiences for radio appear healthy and cable news channels have seen growth.

Readership of online news sources is also up. In fact, I have a friend who has never subscribed to a newspaper. His parents didn’t subscribe to a newspaper when he was growing up and he didn’t after getting married. However, he has, within the past year, become a daily reader of online news content (from area and national newspapers).

That example makes me wonder if readership is really down or just going elsewhere. I don’t know of any studies right now that answer that question.

However, if newspapers are losing circulation I think there are some core reasons why.

Over the past 10 years, study after study has found that American citizens are losing confidence in the news media. This includes a study published May 28, 2003, by USA Today and Gallup Poll that found only 36 percent of Americans “believe news organizations get the facts straight.”

The downward trend began in the 1980’s and gained steam in the 1990’s, long-before the Jayson Blair scandal at the New York Times gave the credibility of large newspapers a black eye. Nationally, a majority of citizens no longer trust the news media in general, and newspapers in particular.

Some citizens think the news media covers up real stories for the sake of owners or advertisers. Others find liberal bias in much of what is written and said (or left out). Still others find the news sensationalized and hyped for the sole purpose of profit. Meanwhile, others say the news media is nothing but entertainment while the real hard issues of our culture get ignored.

Meanwhile, this downward trend may be harming our democracy. What do you think?
The short answer to your question is "yes." But newspapers have done this to themselves by showing remarkable bias in reporting. Just like with yellow journalism, circulations have dropped. If true objective journalism ever makes a come back circulations might increase. Then again, thanks to resources like the Drudge Report, it may be too late for print.
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