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Newspapers in the Information Age
Ariel Krakowski

For hundreds of years, newspapers played an important role in society and democracy. They kept the public informed about the events and issues of the day. Newspapers faced many challenges, such as radio and television, and still managed to succeed. Yet, in current times, the newspapers are facing unprecedented decline. This is due to the development of the internet, which threatens to have a far more drastic effect on the newspapers than anything before. What will happen to the newspapers and why? Will the results be an improvement over the past? Should anything be done to help the newspapers? These are the issues this paper will explore. The invention and development of the printing press made it possible for newspapers to be printed daily in many areas, and this revolutionized the information available to the general public. For hundreds of years, newspapers were basically the only source of information about current events that was available to the general public. Newspapers competed with each other, but had little external competition. The rise of television and radio changed that somewhat, but newspapers maintained their monopoly on the printed word. Newspapers were able to make a profit from two basic sources of revenue: the sale of the newspaper and advertisements. The sale price was set at a price that would compete with other newspapers. The issue of paying for the newspaper itself was never a question ± obviously people would be willing to pay for a physical good that they purchased. Newspapers also offered discounted annual subscriptions, which helped them lock in readers. Advertisements were also a very important source of revenue. There were the large, more expensive advertisements and the less expensive, but more numerous, classified ads. The classifieds were the primary way (without hiring an agent) for people to inform a local community about matters such as the sale of a house, or about a new position available in a local institution. This was the old-model of the newspaper business.

In the early 1990¶s the World Wide Web was born, and the world was never the same. It revolutionized all forms of communication and the spread of information and affected many different industries. The newspapers were not spared. People were now able to read the news online, and were not bound to the printed word. Newspaper subscriptions have decreased dramatically. In 2009, The Washington Post Reported: U.S. newspaper circulation has hit its lowest level in seven decades, as papers across the country lost 10.6 percent of their paying readers from April through September, compared with a year earlier.1 Since then, newspapers have lost even more readers. Although there are still many people who read physical newspapers, this will decline as time passes. The internet provides much more upto-date information, without the inefficiencies of printing and delivery. New devices, such as the iPad or Kindle, make reading from a screen even easier, and will only accelerate this trend. The newspapers cannot rely on their print business model to last for much longer. The printed newspaper is going the way of the telegraph. The newspapers have realized where the future lies and have created websites to publish their news to the public. Although there are no printing and shipping costs to publish news to the internet,2 the newspapers have struggled to generate real profit online. Since there was no physical good being delivered, it became expected that the news should be free online. Since people could access any news source they wanted, few newspapers risked charging money, for readers would just go elsewhere. One basic source of revenue was lost. Advertising revenue has

³The accelerating decline of newspapers´ October 27, 2009. The article is available at: To track the constant decline of newspapers see: 2 While it is expensive to print and deliver each newspaper to each subscriber, a visit to a news website costs the company a tiny fraction of a cent in bandwidth costs. The following article, although it may be somewhat exaggerated, shows how expensive it is to print newspapers:

also not been able to meet previous levels. There are now many other ways for people to communicate locally, and a classified ad in a newspaper is basically obsolete.3 There is little reason for prospective sellers to pay money for an ad in a newspaper when their message will be more easily found with a free ad on Craigslist. For these reasons, newspapers have not been able to achieve the same revenue on the internet as they had before. The internet has also cut into their revenue in another way, though perhaps not as drastically. The newspapers used to own the medium to publish news and opinions, but now any person can start his own website and blog. Some of these blogs have large numbers of readers, and they may have taken away readers from the newspapers. Due to many causes, the newspapers are declining; the question is how far it will go. There is reason to think the dust will eventually settle and the newspapers will be able to survive the transition to the internet. Some newspapers have already started charging money, and if enough newspapers join them, people may become used to the idea of paying for online news. On the new devices, such as the iPad, it is already expected that many newspapers will charge for access.4 Also, while the newspapers have lost their hold of the classifieds market, they have developed some more profitable areas in advertising. Internet ads can be more noticeable, and their results are more accountable, making advertisers willing to pay more for them. Many websites have been able to generate millions of dollars in revenue from online advertising. Yet these new trends are not enough to counter all the forces going against newspapers. Eventually, there will be many less newspapers in business than before, as the overall trends clearly show.


It still exists, but at much reduced numbers. See: 4 Many have even been wondering if the iPad will be the device that will save the newspapers. See, for example, the Guardian:

The surviving newspapers though will continue online with a similar model for news and reporting as they have now. What do these changes in the newspaper business mean for the general public? Doomsayers predict drastic consequences. Many in the media predict that the smaller number of newspapers will mean people will have less available information and perspectives. Some claim that with fewer newspapers, there will be less competition and the quality of the news will decline. Others argue the opposite: the internet will increase the pressure on the newspapers and they will lower their standards in an effort to get more readers. This paper will reply to these claims. It will demonstrate that the closing of some newspapers does not mean there will be a lack of news available to the public. In fact, the internet will actually increase the amount of information available. Competition will also increase, which will encourage the newspapers to work harder. Rather than declining, many of the newspapers will strive to improve their reporting and quality. Overall, the newspapers¶ move to the internet will be one of progress and improvement. Many in the old media claim that a large number of newspapers are necessary to provide the necessary news coverage and viewpoints.5 If too many papers of them close, the public will not have enough news available. However, this will not actually be such a problem. There are many more newspapers in existence than are needed for people¶s information. Some stories are covered by thousands of different papers around the world. For example, a search on Google News about a recent Supreme Court nominee listed ³about 5,821 related articles´.6 A person


See, for example, the end of this New Yorker article: The writer describes the vast number of topics that the established media covers. 6 This is the link to the search, though the results will change over time:

may sometimes want to read multiple perspectives on an issue, but he would never read thousands! Even if half of newspapers end up shutting down, it will not have a harmful effect on the availability of general news. The remaining newspapers will be able to provide the reporting necessary for most news stories, and they will compete with each other and provide different perspectives. Some people may object that the above argument only applies to general news topics covered everywhere, but is not so applicable to local news coverage. This is not an area covered by newspapers outside a town, so the existence of newspapers elsewhere does not help. Over the past century, local news coverage has dramatically declined. It used to be common for cities to have multiple newspapers competing with each other, yet since the 1920¶s this has been in decline. In an economic study, David Genesove reports that ³Between 1923 and 1980, the number of counties with more than two competing newspapers fell by half - from 45% of counties with at least one newspaper to but 21%.´7 This decline has continued since the rise of the internet. It is important that people also receive coverage of local news, but it seems there will not be enough newspapers to do the job adequately. Who will help provide additional coverage and viewpoints on local topics? Local news is the easiest topic for citizen-journalists to contribute effectively to. National news may often require more expertise or access than the average citizen has, but these are not serious obstacles for local news reporting. Few people are inaccessible at the local level, and citizen-journalists are familiar with the news topics in their area. Although the citizen journalists do not have the same editorial and fact-checking standards, they will be able to compensate for this with their numbers. On the internet, readers can

Interestingly, Google only provided 355 blog results on their news search. This may indicate the area where they consider that most people get their news from. 7 See David Genesove, Why Are There So Few (and Fewer and Fewer) Two-Newspaper Towns? Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Available at:

comment on articles, either to correct something, or to provide an alternate perspective. The technology news site, Slashdot, makes a similar point about the power of reader contributions: With« readers as fact-checkers, mistakes would rarely go uncorrected for long, and if there was any perceived bias in a controversial article, reader comments would make sure the other side got heard. Even better, a reader who witnessed an event the paper covered would be able to add his or her account of it to the reporter's, which would give other readers a richer and deeper view.8 Although Slashdot is discussing how newspapers can use reader feedback, the same argument applies at least as strongly to citizen-news sites themselves. Their readers will help substitute for editors, in addition to providing more viewpoints themselves. There is also less of a gap in abilities between citizen journalists and local news reporters. While a citizen journalist may be far less skilled than the top writer at a national newspaper, he is likely to not be much worse than his local news reporter. Since local newspapers are of lower quality anyways, it will be easier for citizen journalists to match them. Although local news may lose some newspaper coverage, citizen journalists will be able to fill in for them, so the public will not be negatively affected. In truth, the internet will greatly increase the amount of news available to the public and people will have more choice than ever before. People used to buy one or two newspapers and be limited to the stories that they had. Yet now, people can access any news article instantly. People can choose to read what interests them most from any selection of news stories. They are not limited to the local newspapers, but can access any news source in the world. People will also be able to access the best experts on a topic, rather than the understanding of a specific newspaper reporter. They can even follow local news in other parts of the world or in specific niche areas


A Recipe for Newspaper Survival in the Internet Age. Article available at:

that they are interested in. Even if more newspapers start charging money, people will still have greater choice. On the internet it becomes possible to buy individual articles, and most newspapers will probably allow readers to access a certain number of free articles. Overall, the amount of information available will make it easier for people to read what they are interested in, get the highest quality information and also do better research. Another issue raised is that fewer newspapers will mean there will be less competition and improvement among them. However, rather than reducing competition, the internet is actually causing the opposite. As mentioned above, people are not limited to the newspapers that are locally available, but can get news from any source instantly. This means all newspapers are competing with each other, and they need to always be trying to improve to get more readers. Being the only newspaper in town used to provide a newspaper with a monopoly on news, but now they face competition from all over. The internet¶s effects on the newspapers will clearly increase competition. The question remains how this change will affect the quality of the news. Some people in the established media fear that the increased pressure on the newspapers will cause them to focus on either less expensive topics, or more popular ones, at the expense of high-quality news. The Economist, a successful weekly magazine, spells out these fears: In order to cut costs, [the newspapers] are already spending less on journalism. Many are also trying to attract younger readers by shifting the mix of their stories towards entertainment, lifestyle and subjects that may seem more relevant to people's daily lives than international affairs and politics are. «It bodes ill for the public role of the Fourth Estate.9


The Economist - print edition. Aug 24th 2006.

While competition may cause some newspapers to reduce their spending, the successful ones will focus on improving. In ³Competition, Circulation And Advertising´ the authors Stephen Lacy and Hugh J. Martin summarize their study of the effects of newspaper competition10: y Intense newspaper competition increases expenditures in the newsroom and improves journalism performance. y The increased expenditure and performance translates into changes in content and improvements in quality aimed at attracting readers. Overall, competition will cause the newspapers to work harder to attract more readers.11 Some still fear that the newspapers will abandon coverage of important topics and focus only on the more popular ones. Yet it is highly unlikely that the majority of newspapers will take such a path. There is still strong demand for real news, and there are enough people and news providers for both ³popular´ topics and high-quality news. The newspapers that have continued to survive online have not significantly degraded the way that they report news, and they will be able to continue with a similar model.12 In fact, in a recent study, most journalists thought that the quality of journalism improved over the past few years.13 When newspapers try to cut down on quality, or if they fail to maintain their credibility,14 their readership suffers. This relationship is also emphasized in the continuation of the above study:

Page 32. Published in the Newspaper Research Journal ‡ Vol. 25, No. 1 ‡ Winter 2004. Available at: 11 Some other studies also demonstrate that competition makes the newspapers work harder. See Steven Lacy, The Effects of Intracity Competition on Daily Newspaper Content. 12 See the end of this paper for a discussion of some adaptations the newspapers will make. 13 See the European Digital Journalism Study 2009. A chart of the survey quoted above can be viewed here: 14 See Philip Meyer and Yuan Zhang, Anatomy of a Death Spiral: Newspapers and Their Credibility. Available at:



«Evidence suggests quality content can attract readers and that failure to provide acceptable levels of quality and content will lead to declines in circulation and penetration.

Ultimately, people still want high-quality news and the demand for it will be met. The fact that some newspapers have closed does not mean the entire model is in danger of going extinct. As explained above, there were too many newspapers in the first place, but they will eventually reach their proper numbers and stabilize. The change of medium will not fundamentally alter the quality of the message. Another factor affecting the newspaper industry is the rise of the blogs. Some claim that the blogs take away large numbers of readers from the newspapers. Yet this does not seem to be the case. Many of the popular blogs offer only opinion pieces, and people still turn to the newspapers for news. This statistic can be demonstrated by looking at the top political blogs on Technorati. They are almost all opinion blogs; it is difficult to even find a blog dedicated to news.15 This disparity makes sense, since any person can give his opinion, but the newspapers are considered more reliable sources of news than a random blog. The blog posts also frequently link to the newspaper stories, and they end up sending many readers there. However, it may be true that bloggers take away readers from the newspaper¶s opinion sections. This is an overall positive development, though it has its downside. Instead of the established newspapers being in control of the opinion pages and their corresponding influence, it is now opened up to all. There is no reason that newspapers should own this ability. The internet gives anyone who can write the ability to influence people with his arguments. While this makes things more democratic, it

The top blogs listed in the politics section of Technorati can be viewed here: There are so few news blogs, that there is not even a specific category on technorati for them. On the other hand, the news media websites still receive many more visitors than the political blogs, as can be seen from these Alexa rankings: See also footnotes 6 and 24.

may also cause some harm. When anyone can have influence, sometimes the more extreme positions gain greater influence than they would have in the old system. Bloggers have already shown their influence in forcing out more moderate politicians in primaries.16 This started in the 2006 campaign against Lieberman, and continued in elections in 2008. Micheal H. Murakami (in ³Divisive Primaries: Party Organizations, Ideological Groups, and the Battle over Party Purity´) argues that, ³These organizations, operating quite at the odds with party organizations ...are contributing to the party polarization in congress´. He shows how the internet has allowed more extreme groups to gain more influence and force out the more moderate politicians in their party. Without moderates, it is much more difficult to achieve the compromise necessary for successful governance. The internet has made the public sphere more democratic, but this may give more influence to those on the extremes. Sometimes the opinioned bloggers do write about the news. They rarely try to maintain the objective tone that the newspapers do. Yet in many ways, this is an improvement over the newspapers. While the newspapers claim to be objective, in truth they rarely are. A study published in The Quarterly Journal of Economics17 used objective values to measure media bias. They summarized their process and results: We measure media bias by estimating ideological scores for several major media outlets. To compute this, we count the times that a particular media outlet cites various think tanks and policy groups, and then compare this with the times that members of Congress cite the same groups. Our results show a strong liberal bias: all of the news outlets we examine, except Fox News' Special Report and the Washington Times, received scores to the left of the average member of Congress.
See, for example,: ³Kissing Macaca: Blogs, Narrative and Political Discourse.´ ³A Measure of Media Bias´ by Tim Groseclose and Jeffrey Milyo. Available at:
17 16

This is an expected result. Journalists as a group are more liberal than the general public,18 and their beliefs are likely to subtly find their ways into the newspaper articles. Few people, if any, are able to achieve total objectivity.19 The newspapers are biased, but pretend to be objective. The bloggers are more open about their opinions, and do not claim to be impartial. This is more honest than the newspapers¶ quasi-impartiality. In addition, the large numbers of bloggers provide a more diverse perspective than the newspapers do. To quote The Economist: 20 Each blogger is capable of bias and slander, but, taken as a group, bloggers offer the searcher after truth boundless material to chew over. Much of this ³boundless material´ is not widely read, only the highest-quality or most significant posts get large numbers of readers. Yet these posts are an important addition to the main-stream news. While the newspapers will continue to be the main source of news, the small part that the bloggers contribute is a positive development.21 The internet has already had large effects on other areas of media production. The music industry shows how a business can adapt to the internet without decreasing the quality of its products or going into financial ruin. Music used to be sold as CD¶s where a person would pay about $15 for 10 songs. Yet the rise of the internet provided alternative ways for people to get music. Many people downloaded music illegally, and it threatened to ruin the music industry. In 2001, Apple Inc. introduced iTunes, and this was a factor that helped save the music industry. People were now able to buy the specific songs that they wanted, rather than being forced to buy a whole CD. The price was also lower, (at $.99 a song) which was a fair result of there being no

A Pew Study reported that five times more journalists consider themselves liberal than conservative: 19 See Ariel Krakowski, ³Blogging Bucks & Bias: The Case for Disclosure´. While it discusses how monetary influences bias a person¶s writing, it seems at least as likely that ideologies a person already believes in will also bias his writing. 20 Economist Ibid. 21 See also previous discussion of citizen-journalists¶ contributions to local news.

shipping or brick-and-mortar store. The internet allowed people to buy any song that they wanted, without being restricted by what was in a music store, and without being forced to buy whole groups of songs. Both business and consumer have benefitted, as the music industry has been able to successfully earn revenue by selling songs on the internet. The newspaper industry can follow a similar path in many ways. People already have much more accessibility to news all over the world. Newspapers will be able to offer different options for selling articles; people should not be forced to buy annual subscriptions. The newspapers will probably not have to worry as much about people illegally downloading the news. Since news is something that becomes obsolete so quickly, it will be harder for torrent sites or others to spread it. The newspapers will find the right models for earning revenue on the internet, and both the reader and producer will eventually benefit from the free publishing that the internet allows. The newspapers have overcome previous changes in technology without having to sacrifice their quality. In the 1920¶s, radio stations began broadcasting in America. They were able to provide more up-to-date news than the newspapers could match. This development helped cause the demise of the evening newspaper, since there was a better way to get the latest news. Yet people still wanted to read news, and the newspapers did not collapse. The rise of television was an even stronger blow to the newspapers, and many lost readers.22 This caused many newspapers to close or consolidate, but the industry was able to adapt. Some newspapers tried to give shorter news stories, while others provided more analysis.23 They managed to adapt without any severe cuts in quality. Similarly, although the internet may provide even greater challenges, the news industry will be able to adapt. Many news sites already provide many options for the general public to comment on or to contribute to the news. They also provide
Mitchell Stephens , History of Newspapers, available at: 23 See Ibid.

videos and interactive features. These developments show how newspapers can incorporate the advantages the internet offers without completely abandoning the old model of news. In one way, the internet is even less of a challenge to the newspaper industry. While radio and television were just forms of competition, the internet is just a new medium that the newspapers can move to themselves. They are not selling paper, they are selling news content. Successful newspaper editors recognize that the content is what counts, and that the news can be adapted to the internet. The Journal-World of Lawrence is a good example of a newspaper/news-media company that has remained successful in the internet years. Their editor was quoted in the New York Times (The Newspaper of the Future, by Timothy L. O'brien): "I don't think of us as being in the newspaper business," said Mr. Simons, the editor and publisher of The Journal-World and the chairman of the World Company, the newspaper's parent. "Information is our business and we're trying to provide information, in one form or another, however the consumer wants it and wherever the consumer wants it, in the most complete and useful way possible." The success of papers such as the Journal-World shows that newspapers can successfully adapt to the internet age. The newspapers traditionally played a central role in keeping people informed. It is considered important in a democracy that the people are knowledgeable about the issues of the day. Through the people¶s votes, they are the ultimate deciders of policy. The newspapers have also helped prevent misdeeds because people are afraid of it being publicized. The effects of the internet on the newspapers could have wider ramifications. If the newspapers were to completely collapse, it could have harmful consequences for the spread of information and the effectiveness

of democracy. It would possibly require public action to help the newspaper industry. Yet it seems unlikely that the newspapers will ever reach that point. While some newspapers may close, the public desire for news will prevent the overall industry from ruin, and the newspapers continue to be the main provider of news.24 The new developments should be embraced, and the newspapers should be left to themselves to adapt. The printing press revolutionized the spread of information in all areas of life. Machines were able to efficiently reproduce what before required painstaking labor. This development had far-reaching consequences. The ability to more easily publish texts helped the spread of science and ideas. It may have helped fuel the creation of democratic governments. The internet is a similar revolutionary technology. To publish something before required printing and shipping, but now it can be done with the click of a mouse. To find information before required painstaking searches though books, but now it can be done with a simple search. This development will have far-reaching consequences in all areas of life. The ability of anyone to publish to the world may help the spread of democracy more than newspapers did.25 The easy access to information has already helped society advance in many areas, and it will continue to do so. Newspapers played their role during the printing age, and they will be able to continue their role during the information age. Yet they must also realize that they no longer have the hegemony that they once had. This may be difficult for some of the newspapers, but it will be for the good of society overall.

As discussed above, the bloggers compete with the news on opinion matters, but not as much over actual news reporting. The newspapers still form the basis for the actual news. See ³Study: Newspapers still reign´ The News Item. Shamokin, Pa.: Jan 23, 2010. 25 See the end of Blog Wars, Bloggers & the Lamont-Lieberman Campaign, by Ariel Krakowski.


Main Works Cited Frank Ahrens. The accelerating decline of newspapers. The Washington Post. October 27, 2009. The article is available at:

Bensinger, Greg. U.S. Newspapers¶ Drop in Ad Sales Slows, Aided by Web

³Roblimo´. A Recipe for Newspaper Survival in the Internet Age. Article available at:

The Economist - print edition. Aug 24th 2006.

Genesove, David. Why Are There So Few (and Fewer and Fewer) Two-Newspaper Towns? Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Available at:

Lacy, Stephen and Hugh J. Martin. Competition, Circulation And Advertising. Published in the Newspaper Research Journal ‡ Vol. 25, No. 1 ‡ Winter 2004. Available at:

Meyer, Philip and Yuan Zhang. Anatomy of a Death Spiral: Newspapers and Their Credibility. Available at:

Burroughs, Benjamin. ³Kissing Macaca: Blogs, Narrative and Political Discourse.´

Groseclose, Tim and Jeffrey Milyo. A Measure of Media Bias. Available at:

Pew Study. Quoted at:

Krakowski, Ariel. Blogging Bucks & Bias: The Case for Disclosure.

Stephens, Mitchell. History of Newspapers. available at:

O'brien, Timothy L. The Newspaper of the Future. The New York Times June 26, 2005.

Oriella PR Network. European Digital Journalism Study 2009