A Dying Breed

By O'Brien, Meredith | The Quill, January/February 2000 | Go to article overview

A Dying Breed


O'Brien, Meredith, The Quill


Despite recent attempts to reverse the trend, afternoon papers seem headed toward extinction

Blame it on CNN.

Or on worsening urban traffic.

Or even on all those dot.coms out there.

While theories on why the afternoon newspaper has been dying abound, experts agree on one thing: It's on its way out.

Between 1975 and 1998, there has been a 46 percent decrease in the number of evening papers while the number of morning papers has increased 113 percent, according to Newspaper Association of America statistics. During that same period, afternoon daily circulation has hemorrhaged, losing 68 percent of its readers.

As a result, more and more p.ma wind up shutting their doors each year. In bigger cities, some merge with their stronger morning counterparts. Still others attempt to salvage their sinking ships by converting to morning papers. Though San Francisco and Honolulu are working to save their evening papers, their actions should be considered anomalies, analysts say.

To Eric Newton, the news historian at the Newseum in Arlington, Va., these battles are largely fruitless. The marketplace is changing and afternoon newspapers don't fit into a world ruled by the 24-hour television news cycle.

Roy Peter Clark, a senior scholar at the Poynter Institute, a Florida-based media think tank, said that the Internet and cable television have dramatically changed the news world to the disadvantage of evening papers. "The news cycle is minute-by-minute now, not half day by half-day, Clark said.

As more Americans increase the amount of time spent in front of the television, afternoon newspapers are paying the price and are closing in record numbers. But the demise of evening papers doesn't mean that people with be left uninformed, Newton said. "Someone or something will come along to fill the void," said Newton, a former newspaper managing editor for the Oakland Tribune. "... It's brutal, but it's brutal in the way nature is brutal."

John Morton, a national media analyst based in Maryland, attributes the afternoon decline to suburbanization and the shift from an industrial to a service economy As people fled the cities to live in far-flung suburbs, the distribution of an evening paper-particularly in the middle of the day when traffic in large metro areas is daunting-became impossible, Morton said.

An evening paper runs into trouble when area roadways don't allow delivery trucks to easily get their product on subscribers' doorsteps by the early afternoon, said Howard Ziff, a former University of Massachusetts at Amherst journalism professor who studied afternoon newspapers. Ziff contends that the staggering traffic gridlock in America's major cities have contributed to the failure of evening papers. "What I think really hurt the afternoon newspaper is the inability to deliver it," he said. "It's as simple as that. ... That simple fact seems to be absolutely overwhelming. …

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