Condi vs. Britney: Will Hard or Soft News Win?

By Chinni, Dante | The Christian Science Monitor, February 27, 2007 | Go to article overview

Condi vs. Britney: Will Hard or Soft News Win?


Chinni, Dante, The Christian Science Monitor


There is no one news culture in the United States. In a nation of 300 million, there are many. For some, the arrival of Barry Bonds at spring training is big news, while others still are focused on the changing lineup of the children's band, The Wiggles.

But look closer and you might see a larger trend lurking among all those different news agendas - a quieter bifurcation of media audiences leading in two different directions, hard and soft.

The trend can be seen most clearly in recent circulation statements of some of the nation's largest magazines. Yes, magazines are just one form of media, but because of their built-in segmentation (from news to sports to crocheting), they offer a more nuanced glimpse into Americans' interests.

What do the numbers show?

On one hand, more serious and expensive news magazines are steadily gaining readers. Since December of 2004, The Economist, a magazine light on photos and heavy on text and analysis has seen its circulation rise from 485,000 to 640,000. In that same time, The New Yorker, the long-story weekly that has become increasingly "newsy," has seen its circulation jump from 995,000 to 1.067 million. Not bad in an era when print is supposedly dying.

But those numbers pale when compared with the growth of celebrity news magazines, which have seen their audiences swell. The Star, which became a glossy magazine in 2004, has seen its numbers go from 1.3 million to 1.54 million since 2004. In Touch has grown from 1 million to 1.26 million in that time. And OK! reported that its circulation went from 450,000 to 757,000 in just nine months last year.

Those figures are even more impressive when you consider that In Touch and OK! are both relatively new magazines - launched in 2002 and 2005 respectively.

Are those numbers just a sign of a sizzling magazine industry? No. The two main newsweeklies are struggling. Since 2004, Newsweek has lost a few thousand readers. Time, meanwhile, announced last year that it was cutting 750,000 of its circulation loose because the discounts it needed to hold on to those readers weren't worth it.

If all those numbers reflect larger news audience tendencies, then there is good and bad in all this.

On the plus side, some Americans are choosing a more substantive news diet than they once did. They are paying more and are getting news that is broader and deeper than the news they used to get.

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Condi vs. Britney: Will Hard or Soft News Win?
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