The Future of Newspapers

By William A. Babcock, Monitor. William A. Babcock, a former editor and writer Monitor, is an associate professor Mass Communication . | The Christian Science Monitor, September 25, 1990 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

The Future of Newspapers

William A. Babcock, Monitor. William A. Babcock, a former editor and writer Monitor, is an associate professor Mass Communication ., The Christian Science Monitor

THE first American newspaper did not have an auspicious beginning.

Only one edition of Harris's Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick was published before the Crown shut down the three-page mini-tabloid 300 years ago.

But this Boston paper - a publication most press historians agree is America's first newspaper - was the beginning of what was to become one of the nation's largest and most lucrative industries.

Today, on the anniversary of the launch of Harris's paper on Sept. 25, 1690, the daily newspaper industry in the United States:

- Generates advertising expenditures annually of $32 billion - $5 billion more than all television services combined.

- Has a daily circulation of 62 million.

- Employs 477,000 people.

- Consumes 9.1 million tons of newsprint each year.

The nation's 1,626 dailies enjoy an average 20 percent profit before taxes - a profit margin undreamed of in most industries. Only 21 of the nation's 100 largest dailies have registered circulation decreases this year over last.

However, the newspaper industry's three-century journey from quill pens to computer terminals has not been smooth, and at no time has the survival of daily newspapers been more uncertain than it is in the last decade of the 20th century.

Even though more than 113 million American adults read a daily newspaper every weekday - up from 93.1 million in 1967 - a smaller percentage of adults each year say they are readers. Twenty-three years ago nearly three quarters of American adults said they read a newspaper every day. Now only about 1 in every 2 adults says he or she is a daily reader.

The number of newspapers in the US peaked at about 2,600 shortly after the turn of the century, when the average household subscribed to slightly more than two newspapers. Now the average household subscribes to between .6 and .7 daily newspapers.

"The penetration of all established media is declining. This is very much a concern," says Lee Stinnett, executive director of the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

"But Ford Motors, too, has declined in its household penetration since the early part of this century," Mr. Stinnett says. "This doesn't mean that Ford is on the decline. You can't expect to always have the whole ball game. It's not possible to compare the mixed media environment of today with that of the turn of the century."

Nevertheless, most newspaper analysts and those in the daily newspaper industry say they are concerned that for most of this century circulation gains have not kept pace with population increases.

"Fewer and fewer people see newspapers as a necessary part of their daily lives," says Dan Wackman, director of the University of Minnesota's school of journalism and mass communication.

Professor Wackman adds that in the past, most Americans picked up the newspaper reading habit by about age 30 - the time when they "settled down," became established in a community, and began raising families. Today, though, people are settling down later - if at all. And ever-increasing numbers are not becoming daily newspaper readers.

"It worries me that a lot of people I know who should be loyal newspaper readers are not newspaper readers," Stinnett says. "They have the jobs and educations that would make them good newspaper readers. They say time pressures are to blame."

John Seigenthaler, publisher of the Nashville Tennessean, says that many women simply don't have the time to be daily newspaper readers because they are so busy balancing the roles of breadwinner, mother, and wife.

While most 19th-century immigrants to the US became newspaper readers to help them meet the challenges of a new world, today's immigrants and minorities generally are being socialized in other ways - especially by television. Interest in public affairs wanes

"There has been tremendous growth of the Hispanic and black communities, and the lesser level of readership in these communities presents newspaper publishers with a tough problem," Wackman says.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

The Future of Newspapers


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?