The decline of newspapers – nothing to do with journalism

February 17, 2008

The decline of newspapers - nothing to do with journalism

Declining newspaper readership has nothing to do with journalism. Should I say that again for the hard of hearing?

Amongst those not listening, the normally wise and perceptive Howard Owens:

If our readers so easily recognize that what we do isn’t trustworthy for its accuracy both in fact and spirit, then how can we expect to retain them as readers?

Something needs to change.

Deaf, too, at New Media Bytes:

My guess is…journalism didn’t deliver what people wanted. Readers spoke with their wallets and readership rates. The same happened with U.S. automakers, which failed to produce vehicles coveted by the American public.

Wrong. And wronger. In case one, the decline of newspapers has almost nothing to do with the lengthy moral failures of print journalism. And in case two, how do you explain growing newspaper circulation in countries like India? They must be practising a kind of super-journalism!

I could call it a tribute to journalism’s culture of self-flagellation – but it is actually a typical human response: seeking to explain events beyond our control by reference to ourselves.


  • The decline of Vaudeville had very little to do with the declining effectiveness of one-liners and the relative merits of novelty acts.
  • The decline of drive-in movie theatres was not the fault of Hollywood screenwriters.

And, if you really want to keep going back in time:

    The crops did not fail because we offended the gods.

The problems journalists are confronting are to do with the changing social habits of people who once purchased newspapers and were thus appealing to advertisers.

Besides, the very first study of reader preferences in newspaper content (by George Gallup at the start of the 1930s) revealed that the things people liked best in them were not the journalism, but the pictures and comic strips.

This post is my – ok, late – contribution to the Carnival of Journalism, hosted this month at Innovation in College Media.

++Further reading++

Journalism not to blame for newspapers’ decline 2

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