Although newspapers were in high demand the morning after Election Day, newspaper readership, which has been steadily declining since the advent of the Internet, has reached an all-time low in the face of the nation’s economic situation.
The Los Angeles Times printed over 300,000 extra copies as readers stood in line through the following Monday, Nov. 10. Likewise, The New York Times printed 225,000 extra copies, The Washington Post sold 350,000 special edition issues and The Chicago Tribune required an extra 220,000 copies.
“The Times and many newspapers across the country have experienced unprecedented demand for their Nov. 5 election results coverage editions,” said Nancy Sullivan, the Executive Director of Communications of The Los Angeles Times.
The surge in demand, however, was purely a product of Election Day’s historic results.
The Audit Bureau of Circulations reported last week that business day circulation of the nation’s assessed newspapers fell 2.6 percent in the past six months. The Newspaper Association of America (NAA) reports that newsprint consumption of all daily U.S. newspapers has slowly declined from 675,000 tons in 2003 to 450,000 in 2008, with 15.7 percent of the total decline occurring within the past year.
On the other hand, NAA also reports that total Web readership of newspapers has increased from 63.5 million hits in December 2007 to 69.3 in August 2008, a 15.8 percent increase.
In addition to being undermined by technological advancements, newspapers are also suffering from the nation’s economic downturn.
NAA forecasts an 11.5 percent decline in total advertising revenue this year, a $40.1 billion decline that is the largest in tracking sales in the past 58 years. Furthermore, it predicts that revenues will decrease another 5.5 percent in 2009.
Nearly 40 percent of news income comes from these classified advertisements, said Barry Siegel, director of UC Irvine’s literary journalism program; these advertisements are also increasingly being transferred to the Internet.
“You can imagine what Craigslist has done to that,” Siegel said.
Chris Meyer, deputy editor with the Orange County Register, said that his newspaper has launched self-service advertising, making online advertising less costly.
“Every time you refresh the page you get new ads,” said Meyer.
In spite of the Register’s online adaptation, Meyers said that the process remains complicated due to increased competition and the addition of non-local competitors.
Newspapers, as well as other forms of print media, have cut back significantly in spite of initiating changes to adapt to the volatile circumstances.
Media giant Time Inc. announced a 6 percent cut in the workforce, around 600 employees. Of the 20 largest newspapers, the San Francisco Chronicle initiated the largest decline of 16.4 percent in its workforce. The New York Times, the largest newsroom in the industry with 1,332 employees, also plans on cutting 100 newsroom jobs. The Christian Science Monitor announced that they would become an online-only news source after suffering $18.9 million in losses and earning only $12.5 million in revenue.
In the fourth round of staff reductions this year, the Register cut 110 workforce staff members at the end of October.
“The reason we’re cutting staff isn’t because it’s easier to go online [but because] we don’t have the revenue,” Meyer said.
Siegel points to competition for the same stories as another possible factor contributing to what is often referred to as newspaper e-globalization, the trend of transitioning online. “These papers … can’t lose people at these volumes and continue reaching the same level of quality that they aspire to.”
Additionally, Siegel pointed to the age gap.
“Your generation doesn’t read the newspaper. My LJ students don’t read the newspaper,” said Siegel.
NAA research reports that adults between the ages of 18-24 constitute only 9 percent of paper readership; the largest aggregate group consists of adults ages 65 and up who constitute 26 percent of the total readership.
While most student newspapers have avoided significant cutbacks, many independent papers report financial difficulties.
After publishing for 137 years, UC Berkeley’s Daily Californian has announced a 25 percent staff cut in addition to the elimination of their Wednesday edition. Syracuse University’s Daily Orange has eliminated their Friday issue. Both universities cite rising costs and falling ad revenue for the setbacks.
Although UCLA’s Daily Bruin has not announced immediate setbacks, they project at least a few thousand dollars in losses in advertisements by the end of the year.
Despite decreased circulation and readership, Jeff Sigmund, NAA’s senior communications manager, said that print remains a vital part of the mix, contributing 80 percent of the medium’s revenue.
“The unique characteristics of the print newspaper – its portability, browsability, physical feel and presentation – continue to appeal to sophisticated, highly engaged readers who provide advertisers with value no other medium can match,” Sigmund said.
Business Editor at the Los Angeles Times, Sallie Hofmeister said that “news is not going away.” In addition to making information more readily available, having the newspaper online only “changes the role of the newspaper, giving readers a plethora of choices,” Hofmeister said.
E-globalization of newspapers is simply evidence of news media adapting to the preferences of their readers for whom faster and better coverage positively correlates with faster and better technology.
“Newspapers’ total audience is robust and continues to grow as the industry adapts to provide readers with high quality content when and how they wish to receive it,” Sigmund said.
As for aspiring journalists, Meyer said, “It’s all about branding. If you have good contacts, then you can be fine, but you might have to wait tables for awhile.”
Suzanne Casazza, Sara Nettleton and Briana Kim contributed to this article.