The latest paid circulation figures for major newspapers are out (http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1003316421), and as the US celebrates its 300 millionth citizen, they paint a bleakly depressing picture of the future of the newspaper industry in this country. The yearly numbers are down for nearly every major publication, except for the tabloid-style New York Post. The industry itself has been quick to blame the Internet for this decline in readership--and since the two most widely read news sites belong to the New York Times and Washington Post, there may or may not be a corresponding decline in ad revenue--but I feel this is a facile explanation. Even self-serving.
Consider the Washington Post's attempt, this past year, to establish a tabloid 'express' version of itself along the same lines as the New York Post. Initially, when this was handed out free at subway stations, every second rider could be seen reading a copy, thus bolstering the WaPo's pitch to advertisers and at the same time hastening the decline of its own paid base. Now a year later, the sight of anyone reading it is increasingly rare; the iPod and the paperback have returned to dominance (but not the Internet, since you can't get it down there). And that's no surprise; the content of 'The Express' is uniformly severely compressed and massively dumbed-down, like a high school journal. 'Why?' is the question here. Why publish such an obvious failure in the first place? Why encourage subway riders to cancel their home subscriptions? And why have traditonally attractive and well-written publications as the WaPo, the New York Times, and the Miami Herald fallen on such hard times that they'd have to resort to measures like this?
In the case of the Times, nothing sums it up better (aside from its quixotic and off-putting attempts to crucify Joe Lieberman--or, occasionally, act as a mouthpiece for Al Qaeda) than its Sunday sports magazine 'Play.' Looking literally like a playbill dedicated to drama--many of its designers and photographers were pulled over from the drama section--it looks and reads exactly like Wilhelmina's gay assistant in 'Ugly Betty's' idea of 'what butch guys in New Jersey should really be exposed to about sports' instead of all that boring stuff about players and stats and managerial moves. Oh yeah, and scores. In short, it is ignorant and condescending, which is increasingly the Times' overarching problem in its ongoing mass disconnect with the rest of America. But at least as the Times goes down like the Titanic, management there remains loyal to its staffers.
Not so at the Washington Post. The WaPo's solution, over and over these past few years of steeply declining profits, has been to axe or buy out its writers and editors. Some of its most famous, even film and TV critics, are now employed on a freelance basis through the 'Washington Post Writers' Group'. Consequently, many articles are not even copy-proofed; headlines are sometimes misspelled, and reporters, more and more of whom are interns, increasingly troll the internet for stories rather than going out and investigating them. It's all they know how to do. And there are few senior editors left to tell them anything different.
It's no coincidence that the only rag showing a climb in circulation on this list is a right-of-center one; like most of the papers on the list, the WaPo, which has always specialized in liberal political crusades, is now, like the BBC, into leftist social manipulation as well. Muslims account for only 2-7% of the local population, scarcely more than Witnesses or Adventists, yet not a day goes by without a photo-spread on veiled local women celebrating Ramadan or despairing refugees from Iraq or Lebanon rebuilding their lives at a Virginia mosque. Good luck finding similar coverage of Rosh Hoshannah--or Christmas. It is common knowledge--and a considerable source of pride for the staff--that the WapO was once crucial in bringing down the Nixon Administration; now they seem intent on doing the same to that of Bush. How else to explain their ardent (and anti-factual) championing of the repellently sexist and anti-semitic Jim Webb against an admittedly equally repellent George Allen, or the mediocre longtime hack Ben Cardin over the bright and personable Michael Steele? It can't be about 'staying the course', since, unlike the Times, the Post has managed to hedge its bets editorially on that issue.
Like most of the newspapers on the list, the Wapo is way out of step with both the cultural and political reality of its readership, which, however diverse its roots may be, are more culturally pro-American and politically centrist--as well as far older--than the brain trust on 15th Street credits. Unlike the BBC, the WaPo cannot impose a user's fee on all area readers; to survive, they need to get real. And I'm guessing, though I am personally acquainted with only about half the newspapers on this 'endangered list', that this is the case with many of the others, as well. As Kolchak used to say on the 'Night Stalker', 'It's noooze, Vincenzo--noooze!' Americans are tired of opinions, in newsprint at least. They want 'nooze'...