Posted by: philipfontana | January 24, 2013

Newspapers Decline

Newspapers Decline


By a Self-fulfilling Prophecy?


     Pictured above, the recent Broadway show, “Newsies,” about the Newsboys Strike of 1899 in New York City.

     Excuse us for living, but some of us grew up in the heyday of the American newspaper industry in the 1940’s! And the growing population helped circulation numbers increase until the 1970’s. Those circulation levels remained stable until the 1990’s when the numbers began to decline. The toll of radio, television, and more recently the internet were too much for the printed word. The downward trend of circulation numbers and advertisement revenues have been undoubtedly devastating to the print media and its publishers, not only newspapers but news magazines as well. However, maybe there is a “Catch-22,” a self-fulfilling prophecy, in this dilemma. Just maybe this downslide can be offset by the newspapers and news magazines not giving up. They must rediscover their mission of providing diversified information to educate the public-at-large.

The statistics spell out this factual truth. From the Pew Research Center, “The State of the News Media 2012,” and other sources:

Circulation of daily newspapers: 62 million, 1990, down to 43 million, 2010 (Sunday circulation about the same).

Advertising revenues of newspapers: $46 million, 2003, down to $24 million, 2011.

Number of daily newspapers: 1,611, 1990. reduced to 1,387, 2009.

Circulation of news magazines: down -1%, 2008, -2.2%, 2009, -1.5%, 2010.

Advertising revenues of news magazines: down -12%, 2008, -25%, 2009, & “stopped the bleeding” flat at -.1%, 2010.

Hand-in-hand with this steady decline in the print circulation and the accompanying drop in advertising revenues has been the transition to and increase in digital journalism. This internet news and analysis not only includes websites and their blogs such as, but also newspaper and news magazine on-line versions/editions while they continue their hard-copy publications as well.

But the salutary point here is that the newspapers and news magazines themselves do not make the situation/the trend any better by their actions. In fact, often their hardcopy editions and on-line versions resemble one-another, each trying to look like the other! The “Catch-22,” the self-fulfilling prophecy compounding the problem, goes something like this: circulation decreases, resulting in lower advertising revenues, causing a downsizing of the number of pages in the periodical. Then since the publication is smaller and offers less information, the readership declines, revenues continue to drop, the number of pages shrink, and the cycle down-spirals.


          Newsweek, a striking example of this collateral damage, saw its demise hastened. Then Editor Jon Meacham attempted in May 2009 to make Newsweek read more like an intellectual journal. After 77 years, 1933-2010, it was sold for $1.00 & assumption of $50 million in liabilities by the Washington Post Company in 2010. Newsweek ceased as a print publication December 31, 2012 & put out its first digital only issue January 4, 2013, merging with

     Now just maybe this downslide could be slowed, stopped, if not reversed by newspapers and news magazines hanging tough. Don’t “cut and run,” but rediscover yourself and how it all began. Publications used to be the source of information which broadened the horizons of the reader, i.e., educated its readership. Newspapers and news magazines used to be mini-versions of The New York Times on Sundays with its various sections from news to the arts, books, business, sports and the like. – – Kind of a daily or weekly Cultural Literacy, a book by E. D. Hirsch, 1988, in which the author describes and provides the basic knowledge, background information, that enables a person to function in our contemporary American society.

Instead, what we have is dumbed-down editions which assume the reader gets his or her news and information elsewhere. And guess what? The self-fulfilling prophecy is they do! People go to their favorite TV cable program or website that tells them exactly what they wish to hear and know in their niche of information.

Never mind that people just might learn something, gain something, by being exposed to a broad spectrum of information that they would peruse on their way to that topic they are looking for.  Indeed, they might stop and read something from another field beside their own and learn something, perhaps, about art, history, literature, etc. It may even give them a new idea that they can use in their respective fields of work.

Excuse us for living, but that’s what the newspaper, the news magazine, used to do for us. The mission was to provide diversified information to educate us. Only a citizenry armed with sufficient information on a wide range of topics can take a look at our American past, deal with the present, and address the problems of our common future.

     Comments: Please, besides the fact that the below sources are mostly on-line and that this is an on-line blog and not a newspaper column!!!

Sources:,,, Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs To Know, 1988, by E. D. Hirsch, Jr.



  1. Call me old fashioned, but I continue to receive the local newspaper every day all week. Local news, local sports and such are easily readable on paper, and faster to skip topics, plus more local ads to see. I can see how national news is immediately available on satellite radio and on TV cable service. Why would us elderlies spend more time on the PC screen reading news, when we (meeself) already spend so much time with email, activity coordinations, and even purchasing power and online banking.

    • Rusty!!! Amen! Amen! You are exhibit “A” for what I am trying to say!!! We need our newspapers! I am saddened to see our local county paper, the Daily Record, a Gannett newspaper, shrink before our eyes! There are no longer columns of want ads, people selling things, or employment listings! Horrible! And I agree! I too do not want to read these things on-line!!! Have you ever tried to read an on-line newspaper??? Really aggravating! Thanks as always! Phil

  2. I read everything on the internet. I am so happy that we are no longer destroying trees to print news papers. The internet gives me access to the NY Times, Washington Post,, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, and every .magazine printed. There are blogger and all kinds of media that is available. I find that the news business has become so partisan that to get the real story you need to read a balanced variety to get the real news.

    • Truscha, Now that is an admirable motivator for me too… saving trees! And I am not worried about you finding everything you want to read on-line. By what you said you are looking at many sources & being exposed to all sorts of topics & information. What concerns me are the people, young in particular, who only go to on-line sources on there one area of interest. People need to be exposed to various subject areas in order to be informed & educated. And what you say is so true: historically newspapers have been either Republican or Democratic, conservative or liberal. Thanks so much for responding! Phil

  3. I love the internet–I love research–I love the immediate answers to questions that would take days to research.
    But my eyes get tired reading from the computer.
    It is a cold, heavy object and very proper. (the phones are too small and not very restful).
    The newspaper is fluid, messy and warm with many surprises. I take sections and travel with them. I am a slow reader so it works for me.
    Reading the newspaper connects me to many good memories. Sunday in bed with coffee, bagels and listening to wonderful music from the radio.( the radio could by another story) I still love my weekends with the New York Times ( now delivered to our home.) and on the computer is a plus. Don’t forget the blackout issue—-we are all strung together by a outdoor pole. We need our papers.(bamboo tree farms –I wonder if paper is made from them?)
    Ah the internet.

    • Great response!!! So many good comments & reflections here!!! It’s a generational thing, we are certain of that!!! Great that we can value both the printed word & all that the internet avails to us at an instant! But you captured the spirit/overview of my post. To bask in a good newspaper is to delve into the world & all it holds for us!!! Brava! And music from the radio to go along with it!!!! –The radio…another story is right! Phil

  4. I forgot to check the comment box……..And have a great day.

    • Check or not, it came through, posted fine! Thanks for the response! Phil

  5. Hi Phil-
    Again, good blogging!

    I agree that the newspapers are dumbed down; take our Orlando sentinel for instance. I love a good personal interest story, but it seems that the Sentinel has outdone itself with these stories. Not enough news. Even when my Michigan cousin comes to visit he says our newspaper is not very “newsy”.

    I do remember “before the internet” how I loved to sit down after putting the kids to bed and would read the paper from cover to cover. Now I get on the ‘puter’ or read a book….

    Well we finally cancelled our subscription and not for the reason you think. When Jim & went on our vacations, i would stop the paper a few days before. And wouldn’t you know it; I would find the newspaper in our driveway. This would happen a few times and I got fed up and cancelled our subscription. I hated that I was not being listened to…

    So that is my story and I am sticking to it…lol….
    Again-good blogging!

    • Margaret, It’s reaffirming that you have experienced the shrinking of the newspapers. And LOVE your “right on” terminology, “dumbed down.” That’s exactly it!!! Says it all!!! And “the puter”! Love that too…never heard that one! Oh, vacations & the newspaper wars here at our house!!! We will go away 3 days or 2 weeks & same problem! We have 3 papers so I lace into them re “a sign to burglars” & all that! Hopeless! Now we cancel a day or two BEFORE we go away &, if need be, call again & give them hell! Thanks for the nice reaction…liked doing this one because it’s mostly me…plus you have to throw in some facts so people don’t discover how dumb you are! HA! Phil

  6. Like a lot of the others who have left comments, I much prefer reading from print instead of on screen. I print most stories online that I feel are important and want to absorb and then read at my convenience. I can read print a lot faster with better comprehension and retainment than the same article on screen. Plus I would really miss the daily page of comics.

    • Jim, I was very interested to read your remarks. I identify with what you said & do re printing out articles myself. Otherwise I find myself taking notes as I read on-line…a waste of time! And reading faster with a hard copy. On-line I am skipping/scanning more. AND THE COMICS!!! That’s the point…exposure to other things you might not be exposed to on-line! I’ve tried the on-line versions of the newspapers I have delivered to my door & it’s really poor…a struggle to read the same!!! Great to talk! Phil

      • As much as I don’t want the daily newspapers to go away, there are things I find to be irritating about the “modern” versions. (My experience here is with the Boulder (Colorado) Daily Camera.)
        First, the newsprint itself has become so thin and flimsy that if you open the paper and then lay it on a table, the corners curl up so badly that you have to hold down those portions of the page you want to read.
        Second, they only cover the preps (high school) activities of schools in the Boulder valley. I have to go to the Denver Post to find out what happened in the Denver area and other parts of the state.
        Third, and probably the most irritating thing about modern versions of the daily newspapers is that they are no longer the bastions of “proper” English usage. For example:
        a) I am absolutely dumbfounded about the small number of people who understand the difference between “your” (as in your cat) and you’re (as in you’re [you are] going to school today). There is even a small difference in the pronunciations, with your having a bit more of an “o” sound, and you’re having a bit of an “e” sound.
        b) Another is usage of less and fewer – there is less water in the glass after I drank some, and there are fewer pieces of toast on the platter since I’ve taken two slices. Simply – few(er) has to do with a small number of countable items, where less has to do change in measurement such as volume.
        c) Bring and take. Bring the ball to me. Now take it to Harry. People just don’t seem to use “bring” anymore.
        d) Good and fine – the nun does good work and I feel fine. When someone asks, “How do you feel?”, the answer should not be, “I’m good” but “I’m fine.” The work that I do is good or bad, but not fine.
        There are others but these examples show what I was trying to point out – that todays newspaper are not edited as closely as they used to be. Part of the blame for this is with the internet and texting as a way of life (I’m not there yet). With the effort being about getting the jist of the message sent as quickly as possible, and with the reliance on “auto-correct”, people just don’t care about usage. Therefore the newspapers, and weekly periodicals, should be more vigilant so that proper usage is not lost.

  7. Jim, I am humbled & appreciative for the time & detail of your response. You are talking to the right person in all you say. I hold back because our viewpoints are not popular these days. I exercise such restraint even in the topics that I choose to address on this blog, knowing that to get political loses 50% of the audience. I want to hear more about the newsprint & corners curling up to better understand. The local prep/high school info I understand & have the same experience with our local newspaper here. And as far as proper English usage & proof reading, WOW!!!!! Thank you! I loved every example you gave. How about “come” & “go”? Drives me nuts!!! They don’t get it!!! And for YEARS, even to fellow younger teachers, I beat my head against the wall explaining the difference between “then” & “than.” DRIVES ME NUTS TO THIS VERY DAY especially with the young people! Then= time & Than=comparison! How difficult is that? And proof reading! I long gave up on newspapers. But even major news magazines like Time & Newsweek!!! And. OK, they are periodicals. But BOOKS!!! Major best sellers! Typos gone unaddressed! I’ve switched from “nobody cares” to “nobody is checking/proofing” due to spell check & the like. I guess we must give it up! But the books, my bottom line, really bothers me. What’s a editor for? –GREAT response, Jim! Reassuring & much thanks! Phil

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  9. MOSC12,

    Thank you for your comment & kind words of compliment. I am thrilled that the content of my article on the decline of newspapers was substantive enough to be of use to your research. It would have been better for you if my sources listed at the end were footnoted to the information above. I hope the sources provide you with further leads for your research & writing. Best wishes for success in your work. Feel free to further communicate with me at in an e-mail.

    Yours truly,
    Philip Fontana

  10. Those numbers include the U-T San Diego, which, sadly, has not been a newspaper since Doug Manchester bought it in December 2011. He has turned it into his personal toy with whole sections of the paper (it still is a paper, just not a newspaper in the traditional sense of the word) devoted to God and Jesus Christ, happenings with his family (marriages, deaths, births, vacations, sightings about town………gag), diatribes against the sick, the poor, the homeless…….. I finally had to cancel my subscription in August 2012. I gave him a chance but I really don’t need daily information about him and his family.

  11. Russel, A sad story of the U-T San Diego becoming a personal family & religious bulletin of Doug Manchester since 2011. Our county newspaper is still hanging on but much reduced in size. We are like you…We want some local news. But as my post says, the declining newspapers become part of the problem adding to their destruction. Phil

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    • Ramona, Many thanks for your encouraging comment. I’ll check Irsrod’s Method. Thanks, Ramona! Phil

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