Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Average Age of Newspaper Reader Rises to 55.

Link to Minneapolis Star Tribune article

Newspaper readership is down. Fewer young people are picking them up, and the average age of a newspaper reader is now 55, according to a Carnegie Corporation study. Many papers have been losing circulation at alarming rates across all age groups.

Pat: Wow. And imagine what it would be if we didn't read papers either. This is sad. A paper is such a great deal. .50 for a Tribune or Sun-Times, $1.00 for a NYT—why wouldn't you? It's all the information you could want, interesting stories, mental ammunition, provocative viewpoints, diverting cartoons, and then, when you're done with that, a crossword or sudoku puzzle. Why is it that our young, dynamic generation doesn't read these?

Tim: I'll tell you why. First of all, bias. And no, I'm not about to go on some "LIBRULZ ARE STUPED" rant, though believe me, I'd love to. Instead, I'll just instruct stuped librulz so maybe they'll become intelligent ones. The problem is people who like to go on said LIBRULZ rants (or NEOCONZ rants, if you swing that way). Everyone is in one of two camps: they give a damn about the world or they don't. If they don't, they're not reading a newspaper, period. It's mental work for no payoff—like studying for a test they don't have to take. And for people who do give a damn, if they're at all "young and dynamic," they have a viewpoint. A bias. Partisans see everything as being "My Viewpoint" or "The Enemy," and newspapers, having generally moderate viewpoints that are statistically unlikely to satisfy the majority of partisans, become "The Enemy" rather easily. And so partisans much rather get their information from people who agree with them and will present news they find palatable. Fox News. Blogs. Talk radio. People pretend to watch the news, but actually just watch their own viewpoints flavored with current events. And it's so much easier to watch than to read.

Pat: Yeah, but you leave off a huge group: non-partisan people with a vague political interest. Of course, these people watch CNN, which is not so much news but rather "People magazine, only with elected celebrities." But I found something else interesting in the article:

Except during recessions, the advertising revenues of newspapers have continued climbing long after newspaper penetration started declining and even since the absolute number of readers started heading south.

And that's the other thing. Newspapers are almost abusive towards their readership. Seriously. When I open a Sun-Times, and each page is quite literally 60% advertisement, I feel ripped off. When the Minneapolis Star Tribune makes Doonesbury half-size so I have to squint to read it, I feel ripped off. Because it's cheaper, newspapers just buy AP and Reuters reports, print bland commentary, and then fill the thing with ads. When I could assemble the same god-damned thing myself with 15 minutes of browsing in Google News or Yahoo! News, newspapers seem like much less of a deal. I mean, whatever happened to having journalists? Sportswriters? Editorials? Anything? Do you remember those Downing Street Minutes? You may claim they just weren't important news, but the reality—as I recall the Star Tribune saying—was 'Well, we waited for a wire report about them to show up, but none ever did.' What, you think Woodward and Bernstein waited for an AP report? Deep throat was actually a Reuters fax machine? Now that they've figured out they can get away with it, newspapers are lazy. And so only people in the habit of buying them will do so. And so newspapers will get lazier and more ad-filled, and more and more profitable, and then the "buy a paper every morning because I have for the last 40 years" crowd will die, and then papers will be screwed, because they've been screwing the younger generation.

Tim: And here we have this gem: Compared to the electronic media, newspapers have held up fairly well, said Mark Fitzgerald of Editor and Publisher magazine. The audience for network news on TV has dropped faster than for newspapers, he said, and radio news has almost disappeared.

You know, dummy, network news and radio news are basically newspapers on TV. Same thing. Moderate viewpoint, actual information reporting. Nobody wants that. People want to be told that they're right. Network news isn't your competitor, your competitor now is on the Internet and in cable.

Pat: And then this: Many newspapers say that if you count their total readership -- print and online combined -- there is no decline.

Well, yes. But that's dangerous ground. Because people will fall out of the habit of going to the hometown newspaper site. If I want information on Iraq, why would I go to the Tribune's page? I'll go to the Guardian, to Al-Jazeera, to AP reports. I can assemble a much broader news experience myself. As long as papers are just composed of wire reports, papers will die as the masses slowly realize what we have--you don't need a newspaper. Now, I still love newspapers and wish people would read them, but when I realize I've already read the entire paper yesterday afternoon online--and more--I don't feel like I've gotten such a great deal.

Tim: You know, we need to get back to arguing. Stop finding articles we fundamentally agree on. Look, I think it's because newspapers don't appeal to bias, you think it's because newspapers don't have good exclusives. In reality, it's probably like 75% my point at maybe 10% yours, with the rest being "assorted." But they aren't exclusive points. Nobody wants to read two guys agreeing. Next time, I'm going to pick something like "Harry Reid Eats Homosexual Fetuses" or "George Bush Is Factually The Greatest Man Of All Time" or something. This agreement has to stop.


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