For the last two years, major newspapers across the country have been reporting on an interesting story – the rapid decline in circulation numbers among their ranks. This decline has affected newspapers from all levels of the publishing industry and from all areas of the country. Many factors have been blamed for this decline, but the most commonly cited reason for it is the explosion of citizen reporting through online outlets. Bloggers and independent reporters are funneling more content to the internet, and this content is often fresher and more locally-focused than what is found in the newspapers. Because of this, readers are gravitating to these websites rather than to the traditional newspapers.
To help combat this, the newspapers themselves have moved toward publishing more content online, but revenues they generate through these ventures do not measure up to those they can draw from print advertising. This move to the internet has exacerbated the decline in print readership and, consequently, in revenues to the newspapers. Facing these dwindling revenues, newspapers have been forced to cut staff and produce less original content. They are caught in a vicious cycle that is only made worse by the recent economic troubles the nation faces.
The declines in circulation have been sharp, too. Based on figures provided by the Audit Bureau of Circulation, the Los Angeles Times has lost approximately 40% of its daily circulation between March 2006 and June 2009. This newspaper, however, has remained in the fourth spot in daily circulation among all American newspapers. The top three newspapers have also faced a decline in circulation, but not nearly as sharp. These papers (with June 2009 circulation figures) are: USA Today (2,113,725), Wall Street Journal (2,082,189), and New York Times (1,039,031). These three newspapers are the only remaining American newspapers with daily circulation of one million papers or more. The Los Angeles Times has a reported daily circulation of 723,181 papers, and the Washington Post (665,383) is the final paper in the top five.
New York’s Daily News (602,857), the Houston Chronicle (558,140), the Chicago Tribune (501,202), the New York Post (425,138), and The Arizona Republic (389,701) round out the top ten newspapers in terms of daily circulation. This list is a radical transformation from the numbers six through ten slots from March 2006. No change is more dramatic, however, than the disappearance of the Philadelphia Inquirer. That newspaper slid from the number eight slot with a circulation of just over 700,000 in March 2006 to the twentieth position in June 2009 with fewer than 300,000 copies in circulation.
Despite these slumping circulation numbers, these newspapers are still publishing quality news reports. Unfortunately, there are fewer and fewer openings at these traditional outlets for journalists. There are, however, more opportunities for freelance journalists and writers to produce and publish high-quality, locally-focused reports on a myriad of websites. This shift is a great boon in the day-to-day life of people across the nation. We can only wait and see, though, if it comes at the cost of effective investigative journalism.