Newspapers: Going...Going...Gone!

the upcoming death of the newspaperFor anybody who has followed the news over the past few years (and, let's be honest, you were probably reading it on a computer), the long-awaited demise of newspapers shouldn't come as much of a surprise. But on Wednesday, the bell tolled once again for the printed word when the University of Southern California's Annenberg Center for the Digital Future offered some prophesies for the future of media. High on the list was a chilling prediction: Within five years, the report claimed, only four major daily papers will continue in print form.

According to Jeffrey I. Cole, director of the center, the four survivors will be The New York Times (NYT), The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post (WPO) and USA Today. It's worth noting that two of these papers -- the Times and the Journal -- already charge for online content. Within the next year, USA Today also plans to start charging, which will leave The Washington Post as the only one of the big four offering its content for free.

Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli and publisher Katherine Weymouth both emphasize that the newspaper has no plans to erect a paywall in the foreseeable future. It's worth noting that the Post has weathered its financial storms better than most dailies: Its Kaplan educational subsidiary has remained largely profitable, helping to stabilize the paper's finances. Coupled with major cutbacks -- the Post has closed all but two of its regional suburban bureaus and almost halved its reporter corps -- this has sufficed to stem the loss of revenue.

Part of the reason for the Post's relative success is that it is one of the rare national papers that also has a strong local audience. In his discussion of the future of newspapers, Annenberg's Cole offered a caveat: "We believe that the only print newspapers that will survive will be at the extremes of the medium – the largest and the smallest." In many ways, the Post is both -- a paper with a huge national readership that is also widely read by its hometown crowd. As Politico recently noted, the Post has 30% market penetration in the Washington D.C. area; by comparison, The New York Times' hometown readership percentage numbers are in the single digits.

For media watchers, the demise of newspapers has become a grim joke; one website, Newspaper Death Watch, keeps a running commentary on the bleakness of the print media wasteland. While the increased online presence of many papers offers some hope for the future, lingering questions remain about what the death of papers will mean for the news. As Cole asks, "How will the changing delivery of content affect the quality and depth of journalism?" Stay tuned.

Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.

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I can watch the TV for sorta "right now" press release reports or read the paper for the same tomorrow. People tend to seek "confirmatory bias" in their news - thus the popular Faux news and Drudge reports telling some people what they want to hear. I read BBC or Google news to try to get the part that is excluded in modern news media in the USA - the "WHY" and verified facts. We get loads of WHO, did WHAT, WHERE and HOW and WHEN. But do you see much WHY?
Read the book "A nation of Sheep". Read the papers from Pakistan or Kenya's "The Daily Nation" - places where the papers are concerned with cronyism and corruption, and what things mean to their cities, villages and countries. Then compare it to the US corporate media.

December 20 2011 at 4:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The digital world has been writing the newspaper industry's obit ever since it wriggled on to dry land and logged on.
There is no digital newspaper model yet that can come close to paying for the substantial newsroom needed to run even a quality weekly newspaper. Community newspapers are stronger than ever, many with increasing readership.
The digital dirge is overhyped and thrown back and forth among believers in the digital fraternity, reinforcing their self-proclaimed superiority. Like much of what is posted on the Internet, is it not researched, not factual and largely not true. Metro newspapers are in trouble, but they are a tiny sliver of America's newspapers, most of which continue making a profit and serving their communities.

December 20 2011 at 1:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
LEE Resolution

When the libraries begin shutting down for lack of patrons, we're in real trouble.

Hopefully, American won't dumb down that far.

December 19 2011 at 6:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
LEE Resolution

the Washington Times is doing ok....same with the Wall Street Journal.

there's a difference between news and propaganda.

December 19 2011 at 6:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Don Collins

I thought 45 million Americans read a paper daily? Am I wrong? If true, the forecast seems a bit too pessimistic.

December 19 2011 at 6:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Bob A' Lou

The Washington Post has a wide readership because of all the Congreemen getting theirs' for free - at the expense of the taxpayers. Along with their tax paid Health Care, bottled water, and free $16 muffins.

December 19 2011 at 5:57 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

I hope not....You can't line your bird cage or wash windows with your computer.....

December 19 2011 at 5:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Live in NYC and I buy the Daily News for the subway commute however most people seem to pick up the free daily newspapers that have invaded the city over the last few years (another blow to NYC print dailies). But I suspect the end is near. Blame it on the internet if you like but I don't know ANY person under the age of 35 in the office who reads the paper even if it's lying on the table for free. Young people just don't seem to care about news in print whatever the form? They should start a Facebook Times because it seems to be the only current offering any of the younger staff bother to read. All free office time is devoted to that landscape.

I will miss the sensational headlines blaring from the newsstands. Such a big city tradition..gone.

December 19 2011 at 5:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I had the occasion to read my local newspaper a few months ago while waiting for my car to be serviced. It took about three minutes to read the whole thing. It used to take 45 minutes to an hour to read. I've read longer pamphlets than that sorry excuse for a newspaper. I'm very glad I canceled my subscription years ago.

December 19 2011 at 5:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The far left union socialist liberal newspapers need to go broke! And that about covers all of them, especially Maclatchy.

December 19 2011 at 5:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply