Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Is Anyone Reading the Papers?

A thoughful essay appears in the current edition of the Columbia Journalism Review which asks, "Is it possible to do great journalism if the public does not care?"

It is not hard to see why; the data on readership are consistent and depressing. Vin Crosbie pointed to statistics that showed that in 1964, 81 percent of Americans read a daily newspaper, while today that figure hovers around 54 percent. Soon newspaper readers will be a minority of the population, given the even more distressing figures he cited concerning the reading habits of younger Americans. As recently as 1997, 39 percent of Americans 18 to 34 were reading newspapers regularly; by 2001 this had dropped to 26 percent. That statistic is even worse than it seems, because newspaper reading — or nonreading — is a habit, like smoking or a preference for Coke or Pepsi, that once acquired tends to remain in place. The older Americans who are the mainstay of newspaper subscriber lists have been reading newspapers since their teens and twenties, and younger Americans who have not yet picked up the habit are not likely to develop it later in life.

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