THE first American newspaper did not have an auspicious
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
"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
"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. …