Reading the paper…

Don’t know if you have seen this week’s NY Times article on the decline of U.S. newspaper circulation. It outlines some grim-looking numbers:

– newspaper circulation is down 10% from last year

– Only 44 million papers are being sold daily, the lowest number since the 1940s.

There were some interesting, not-so-glum highlights as well. Notably, the Wall Street Journal is bucking the trend – with overall circulation up 0.6%, according to the Times piece.  WSJ is one of a handful of papers charging for digital subscriptions, which now number around 400,000.  Most papers do not charge for their online content, and perhaps they should.  One thing is pretty clear:  the current model is not working.

You can’t have year after year of shrinking advertising income and maintain a quality newsroom with enough reporters to cover stories well.  I hear from colleagues about how hard it’s getting, and the truth is, our papers here in Charleston are thinner in terms of content, just as they are everywhere.

People are still reading the paper though – according to the NYT piece, newspapers have had 72 million unique online visitors per month this year, up from 60 million in 2007.  That shift in media use is redefining how communications and journalism are done.

And it looks like the trend will continue.

In 2018, the first all-digital generation will enter the workforce.  These folks don’t have the same loyalty to print media as previous generations.  They’ve always had X-Box and iPod.  They will have grown up with Social Media and reading content on devices (computers, smart phones, etc.) rather than on paper.

I hear the arguments about how this new world is hurting community, about how we’ll all just become isolated, anti-social people with red eyes from staring at screens all day.  I really hear it.  The smell of a new book, the feel of paper between your fingers, crinkling as you read, is an experience a computer can’t replace.

But if you think social media is not a community activity, consider last year’s Presidential Election (regardless of your politics).  The candidate who won is in office today because his team mobilized a young, tech-savvy, social-media-using community/generation in numbers not seen in the modern political era.

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