Down She Goes

Circulation declines at most American newspapers. Clearly, technology and changing habits have a lot to do with this story. Still, to me it’s always striking that when journalists talk about the slow-motion death of most of the nation’s major newspapers the issue of quality rarely comes into it. And yet the decline is by no means uniform:

National newspapers like USA Today and the Journal have tended to hold their ground better, as have smaller-market dailies where competition from other media like the Internet isn’t usually as intense.

Metropolitan dailies have suffered the worst declines, a trend that continued in the most recent reporting period, with the Dallas Morning News reporting a 10.6 percent drop to 368,313.

I think you see here that the issues of quality and competition from the internet are really interlinked. I’ve heard people worry to me about what will happen to local coverage in an internet-dominated world, and these people are correctly identifying a comparative weakness of current new media, but the answer is that the papers that specialize in covering local news seem to actually be doing okay.

The newspaper, as an institution, is an odd one — an enormous bundle of disparate kinds of content whose rationale for existing has to do with the economics of printing and distributing cheap paper and ink on a daily basis. In an online world, the economics are different and argue in favor of specialization and niches. And this is also almost certainly better for editorial quality. It would be extremely odd for one person to be well-qualified to supervise coverage of all the different things The New York Times tries to cover. Why not get political news from a political news outlet, movie reviews from a place that specializes in movies, and local news from an organization that’s really passionate about covering its community rather than viewing it as a JV form of journalism to be endured before moving on to something bigger? And in the future, we will.