They aren’t what they used to be, but newspapers still provide one service that’s not often found elsewhere.
The olden days
Up until three or four decades ago, newspapers were not only vitally important to society, but they were also often sought. Until the late 1960s, newspapers had little competition other than radio when it came to delivering the news to the masses. Newspapers ruled. Then television came along with Walter Cronkite and the Vietnam War. Things began to change.
Over the next 20 to 30 years, newspapers were still pretty strong. Television news truly didn’t come into its own until the 1980s and really didn’t begin to grow in strength until cable news and CNN began to grow in the early 1990s. About the same time, the Internet sprang to life.
Newspapers cling to life, barely
Since the early 1990s, newspapers have grown less and less useful, less and less powerful as containers of knowledge and less and less needed by the common folk. The death of newspapers has until recent begin gradual. A little circulation drop here. A little advertising dropped there. But over the last couple of years, things have dropped off dramatically for newspapers.
Television has had some affect, but more than anything it has been the Internet that has hit newspapers hard. Information is now readily available, often for free, all over the world at just a few clicks of a mouse. Newspapers can’t compete with that. The news in newspapers is almost always at least 12 hours old, and often times older.
The readership and the advertising base for newspapers has slowly been eroded over the years, and it continues to do so. Most importantly, of the last couple of years, corporations that own newspapers have realized they are driving a sinking ship and have been selling off newspapers and cutting staff as fast as possible. It’s only business, after all, right?
Also, the media in general has taken hard hits over the last couple of decades of being biased. There is some truth to this. Newspapers are put together by people, and as much as they try not to, people often can’t help their own biases. Also, with the growing polarity of politics (especially in the United States), the word “unbiased” has lost much of its meaning, now mainly meaning “whatever I don’t agree with.”
What’s to come?
I don’t know. No one does. But as a former newspaper journalist for 20 years, I can make some educated guesses. I believe newspapers will survive, in some form or another, for at least another 50 or so years. More newspapers will shut down, and many newspapers will continue to merge print and Web products with some eventually going completely to the Web. Many of the larger newspapers will survive by jumping on the Internet bandwagon, and possibly by expanding and becoming more regional. Smaller newspapers will possibly survive by focusing more on advertising, by cutting back on news content and basically becoming an advertising vehicle similar to the many automobile and classifieds-type publications that can often be found in racks at the entrance to grocery and department stores.