: Vin Crosbie’s chart showing the decline in American newspaper circulation (via Simon Waldman).

  • Ok, I’ll bite. What do you think caused the most drastic drop from 1994-1996? Certainly not blogs; and there probably weren’t many online versions of newspapers that early in the adoption of the WWW as a mass medium. Is it, as the CJR suggests, “a decline of public interest in public life, a serious disengagement of citizens from one of the primary duties of citizenship

  • Dishman

    It looks more precipitous than it really is.
    The bottom of the graph is at 54M, rather than zero. It actually shows a 7.5M drop, or about 12%.

  • Chris Colgan

    It might have dropped 12% but the US population rose during this period. That decreases the % of total Americans reading newspapers, correct?

  • EverKarl

    First, look at the x-axis of that graph — the distance between 1960-85 is about the same as the distance from 1985-94?
    Second, the linked post doesn’t mention the rise of cable news. CNN really began to hit its stride during the Gulf War, iirc. The linked post does note that morning circ isn’t nearly as bad off, but cannot figure out why. I would suggest it was because people consume the paper in the morning, but have been increasingly relying on cable news and probably talk radio also for their afternoon and evening updates.
    However, I do think the web accelerated this trend as you get to the end of that graph. There was plenty of news available on the ‘net by ’96-97. I daresay that most of the permanent links collected at the Drudge Report today were all on that same ol’ page well before he became famous from the Lewinsky story. I’m not commenting on Drudge here — I’m just saying he had a lot of links up to what is now called MSM by the mid-1990s, which means those sites were running by then.

  • What’s the source? If it’s the newspapers themselves, aren’t the claimed circulation figures unreliable?

  • Weird… the late 90s decline is less steep than the decline between mid-80s and mid-90s.
    OK, I’m going to suggest something potentially wacky, here. What happened to newspaper circulation: The Reagan Revolution and Rush Limbaugh stripped away the nation’s comfort level with traditional journalism.
    Also, as an amateur cartoonist, I’m happy to see newspaper sales declining faster than editors can shrink the size of the comic strips.

  • John Bragg

    I’ve gotta say, I’m highly skeptical of a “graph” where 1960-85, 1985-94, and 1994-99 are equal on the x-axis. The plots on the graph are conveniently unreadable, and thus unverifiable.
    I call shenanigans. If CNN or the NY Times published this, we’d all be screaming bloody murder.

  • Mumblix Grumph

    Newspapers are victims of the shelf-life of modern news.
    By the time a paper hits your doorstep, it’s already filled with old news.
    The paper is really only useful for local news and features. Even then, the local TV news and websites have pretty much stolen the paper’s thunder.
    Sound Politics and Northwest Cable News Websites are where I get most of my local news.
    The paper is really just a place for OP-ED stuff, and that is getting harder and harder to stomach as all those Evergreen State College grads start writing their little poison pen letters to the editor.

  • Russell

    Here is the raw data that it’s based on.
    Without the deceptive axis scales, it doesn’t look so bad. Morning circulation doubled, while Evening circulation tanked. Leaving overall circulation more or less stable.

  • Ah, the wonderful biases of data presentation and visualization.

  • Ah, the wonderful biases of data presentation and visualization.
    which brings us back to blog credibility. I was actually shocked by the chart that Jeff linked to, and I’m glad I saw the real data (thanx Russell).
    In this instance, the source of the “bogus” chart is a company called “Digital Deliverance” whose “motto” is “Guiding Clients to Profitable News Media Since 1996.”
    Now, I’m not trying to be snide here….but to ask legitimate questions about how information, and disinformation, transmits itself on the internet.
    Jeff presented us with a chart that provided a really “dishonest” view of newspaper circulation numbers—the chart originated at a site whose economic interests (apparently) coincide with the perception that newspapers are not a good value for advertising dollars.
    The good news is that a number of folks here “fact checked Jeff’s ass” as he would put it, noting first that the bottom of the chart did not represent zero, then noticing that the “time” element was inconsistent, and finally Russell shows us what the data actually says.
    The bad news is that not everyone reads the comments. Anyone who checks Jeff out with their morning coffee is now walking around thinking “Jesus! newspaper circulation sank like a stone! No wonder reporting is so bad. They can’t afford to do good journalism anymore” or similar things.
    So who is responsible here? And to what degree? Is it “Digital Deliverance”. Is it Jeff (who, refers to “Vin Crosbie” as the source, thereby implying a familiarity with the source and implying that the source is credible.) Readers like myself who are only half awake when we clink on a link, and didn’t examine every element of the chart?

  • Agreed, Paul. You outline some of the inherent problems with this media. People receiving RSS feeds only won’t see these comments. Plus these comments, and the blog entries themselves, are horribly linear and one-dimensional in a way that you have to read through them all to follow along, and its almost impossible to truly understand who is responding/conversing with whom. Further, the “conversation” will end once JJ makes a few more posts, and this article moves further and further down the page, essentially disappearing.
    I still think a wiki model is much more condusive towards a “conversation” than the blog format. Why rely of the blog owner to amend the original post based on comments when we could all be amending the content directly? Arguing that I can “fact-check” him by linking and discussing on my own blog is ineffectual since that relys on the chance that people read my blog as well.
    If JJ wants to create a true citizen’s media where we all can EQUALLY participate in a conversation, turn Buzzmachine into a Wiki.

  • Larry

    The other thing to consider is that in many large cities the afternoon paper closed during the time periods being shown. The remaining paper(s) didn’t maintain the same circulation due to the duplicate readership. I’m sure the chart doesn’t take that into account nor does it take into account the number of small weeklies that have sprung up in the same time period.

  • tim wg

    Considering that the numbers are probably trumped up, the actual number of readers is probably much much lower.
    I don’t give much hope to the newspapers. They are a dying breed. They don’t care about the other half of the country, which is the one that elected Bush. The are conservative, religious, and diverse.

  • slim999

    Ahh fun with numbers indeed. But it also says something about bloggers who throw out “facts” that purport to support their own biases (I notice a strong anti-newspaper bias on this blog).
    The problem with this “fact” is that there isn’t any context. TV is the medium which provides the least context but is where Jeff is spending most of his time lately; newspapers certainly have the space to provide more context; and blogs have UNLIMITED space to provide the context of the link.
    What was this “fact” purporting to demonstrate anyway? I’ll provide the only fact which can be taken from this chart: that newspaper circulation is less now than it was at some time in the past.
    The reader is left to infer the rest (but in the context of this blog, the intended inference is pretty clear: That the MSM is losing readers because of their left-leaning ways.)
    So, Jeff … maybe next time you throw out a fact; also throw out what you think that fact means, so we can debate what you think it means and not the misleading graphics.

  • Karen
  • Mark