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
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
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. …