Monday, November 7, 2005

I love newspapers. There is something about having one in your hand - versus reading one online. Over the years, I have worked for a number of pretty good papers and broken a lot of good stories as a reporter and editor. Before that, I worked as a contributor and advertising sales rep.
When I was a boy, I used to peddle the Concord Monitor, the local daily in the town I grew up in. It was one of my first real jobs. Every day after school, I would meet several other kids at the five-way intersection at White Park [where the old trolley station still is] and we would have our papers dropped there.
Back then, the Monitor was an afternoon paper and a bunch of us geeks would meet in the afternoon. At the time, the Saturday edition was the only morning edition and there was no Sunday paper. I always remember it being a huge paper and very heavy to carry around, easily double or triple the size that the paper is now.
Wednesday was the big edition of the week, with all the flyers in it for the weekend shoppers. If you had a big route - about 60 or 70 residents to deliver to - you were dragging that bag around like a Neanderthal dragging his mate by the hair!
It was a fun job but a bit strange too. The Monitor seemed to go through circulation reps. a lot. There was this one guy I used to really like who tried to get us to take pride in our work, by telling us to take time to read the paper and understand what we were delivering to the public. I never really thought of it at the time, but he was right. That guy was later replaced by another guy and then another, always urging speed in delivery and the exact opposite of the guy who told us to take pride in our work.
When we moved from one end of town to the other, I stopped doing the paper route. It was over a mile away and I was getting a little old for peddling papers. My brother would have a smaller route though and then the Monitor would move to mornings.

However, the demise of the newspaper is really startling. Similar to the recording industry, the advance of technology and the "virtue" of free content have led to its demise. We have also taught a whole generation of young people that they don't have to pay for anything, that information is "free," and that there are few and sometimes no consequences to our actions.

Check this out from Drudge earlier this week:

Mon Nov 07 2005 11:02:35 ET
Average weekday circulation of America's 20 biggest newspapers for the six-month period ended Sept. 30, as reported Monday by the Audit Bureau of Circulations. [The percentage changes are from the comparable year-ago period.]

1. USA Today, 2,296,335, down 0.59 percent
2. The Wall Street Journal, 2,083,660, down 1.10 percent
3. The New York Times, 1,126,190, up 0.46 percent
4. Los Angeles Times, 843,432, down 3.79 percent
5. New York Daily News, 688,584, down 3.70 percent
6. The Washington Post, 678,779, down 4.09 percent
7. New York Post, 662,681, down 1.74 percent
8. Chicago Tribune, 586,122, down 2.47 percent
9. Houston Chronicle, 521,419, down 6.01 percent
10. The Boston Globe, 414,225, down 8.25 percent
11. The Arizona Republic, 411,043, down 0.54 percent
12. The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., 400,092, up 0.01 percent
13. San Francisco Chronicle, 391,681, down 16.4 percent
14. Star Tribune of Minneapolis-St. Paul, 374,528, down 0.26 percent
15. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 362,426, down 8.73 percent
16. The Philadelphia Inquirer, 357,679, down 3.16 percent
17. Detroit Free Press, 341,248, down 2.18 percent
18. The Plain Dealer, Cleveland, 339,055, down 4.46 percent
19. The Oregonian, Portland, 333,515, down 1.24 percent
20. The San Diego Union-Tribune, 314,279, down 6.24 percent

It is interesting to note that the top three are pretty much holding steady. At least two of those papers - the NYT and the WSJ - set the national agenda as far as media coverage goes. The USA Today is the Pravda of the United States, IMHO. But look at the rest: Down, down, down ... The Boston Globe's circ numbers are not surprising. It is a shell of the newspaper that it once was. There has also been a long-standing boycott against El Globo, as Howie Carr calls it, by conservatives, who have long complained about the paper's liberal elitist mentalities. Some drops could probably be explained by the influx of non-English speaking immigrants moving into homes in urban America once owned - or rented - by English speaking folks who have cancelled their subscriptions when they moved away.

All of this is not good though because the newspaper is the bedrock of our society. The flip of this is that there will be new newspapers cropping up, free dailies and weeklies, and also the Internet, which will flourish as a source of news. But the Internet isn't a newspaper. It just isn't the same. And another problem is that no one has really found a way to make money from the Web yet. All in due time though.

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