Newspapers Reshuffle to Stay Afloat as Some Big-City Dailies Fold, Others Adjust to Changing Demographics, Stiff Competition

By Max Boot, | The Christian Science Monitor, July 23, 1992 | Go to article overview

Newspapers Reshuffle to Stay Afloat as Some Big-City Dailies Fold, Others Adjust to Changing Demographics, Stiff Competition


Max Boot,, The Christian Science Monitor


MANY big-city daily newspapers, it seems, are going the way of manual typewriters, "Extra" editions, and teletype machines.

In the past year, the following newspapers have closed down or merged with competitors: the Dallas Times Herald, the Arkansas Gazette, the San Diego Union, the Richmond (Va.) News Leader, the Anchorage (Alaska) Times, the Charleston (S.C.) Evening Post, and the Daily Journal in Elizabeth, N.J.

In all, 19 newspapers went out of business in 1991 (no figures are available yet for 1992). This continues a trend discernible since World War II: the steady decline in the total number of newspapers in the United States.

According to the Newspaper Association of America, there were 1,763 daily newspapers in 1946; by 1991, the number had shrunk to 1,586.

What accounts for the gradual extinction of so many papers, even those with excellent editorial reputations, such as the Dallas Times Herald and the Arkansas Gazette?

Industry analysts say some of the recent losses can be attributed in part to short-term economic factors, namely a recession that has hurt major industries.

But there's more to it than that. Big-city dailies are closing because of structural changes that are sweeping through the newspaper market, changes that are transforming the way Americans receive their information about the world.

"Newspapers are an old, mature industry that is going through restructuring because of heavy technological change and changes in the marketplace," says George Harmon, a professor at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. A fragmented market

The biggest trend affecting newspapers is simply the "information age." Most people no longer look to a morning newspaper first to find out what's happening in the world. Television news provides this information in a more timely fashion, as was vividly demonstrated during the 1991 Gulf war, when millions of Americans sat riveted before TV network news broadcasts and especially Cable News Network.

The growth of CNN is only one indication of what experts describe as the "fragmentation" of the media market. Desktop publishing, communications satellites, and other technologies have led to a proliferation of media outlets providing specialized information for select audiences.

This change in the media market has been paralleled by equally significant changes in demographics. The heyday of big cities populated by large numbers of blue-collar workers is clearly over. Most Americans now live in the suburbs and work in white-collar "service industries" rather than in manufacturing jobs.

As the old class of blue-collar city-dwellers has disappeared, so have the newspapers they used to read: gritty, afternoon tabloids. Many of those that remain, like the New York Post and the New York Daily News, are losing money at an alarming rate and are kept in business by huge subsidies from their owners. Sales stay flat

The new suburban dwellers no longer have much loyalty to the newspapers their parents read, analysts say. They prefer to get their news from cable television or small, local newspapers - or not to get their news at all. …

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