From the Ashes of Dying Newspapers Will Come Authentic News

By Al Giordano

A company called the Audit Bureau of Circulation measures how many actual newspapers are sold by US dailies and has just released its September 2009 six-month report. Newspaper companies pay the Audit Bureau to conduct this measurement to be able to show potential advertisers how many readers - especially the upscale kind - their ads will potentially reach.

The latest audit brings, not surprisingly, very bad news for the American newspaper and its corporate model of journalism.

Of the 25 most widely read newspapers in the US, all but the Wall Street Journal – treading water at 2,024,269 readers, the Journal is now the de facto top daily in the country (but that, with only a tiny elite of 0.6 percent of US residents reading its pages) – have lost significant readership since a year ago, according to the Audit Bureau.

USA Today’s circulation dropped 17.5 percent in one year to 1.9 million, sinking it to second place. Reportedly the paper can no longer afford to artificially boost its circulation numbers by providing a free copy at your hotel room door and then counting you as one of its “readers.”

The “big three” dailies are in an ever-faster free fall: The third place New York Times’ readership fell 7.3 percent and is now at under a million readers a day. Fourth place Los Angeles Times, now at 657,467 readers, lost 11 percent of its customers. And the fifth ranked Washington Post, at 582,844 readers, lost 6.4 percent.

The sixth and seventh place finishers – the New York tabloids, the News and the Post - hover near half-a-million readers apiece. That means in what used to be a “newspaper town” of the Big Apple, if we combine the entire circulations of the Journal, the Times, the News and the Post, even including their national circulation, together they don’t reach even four million readers in a metropolitan area of 18 million.

It’s over. The advertiser-funded model of daily newspapers is now circling the drain.

Today’s Audit Bureau numbers also disprove one of the theories that newspaper ideologues have floated in recent years: that the larger “regional” papers – like the Timeses of NY and LA and the Post of DC – would emerge to gobble up the readers of other dying dailies in geographic proximity to become healthy regional giants. The data clearly demonstrates that that ain’t happening at all.

When the topic comes up, this final generation of daily newspaper editors and reporters typically takes its hands off its eyes and ears just long enough to blurt out a rant about how “bloggers” can never replace newspapers. But before one can engage them with, say, real facts (those mere props in the US daily newspaper mythology) about other news sources that are growing and thriving today (like this online newspaper you're reading right now, much more diverse in our models than blogs only), and the different methods we use to investigate and report the news, these Cro-magnons typically go back to the monkey-see monkey-do pose as if in tantrum to express that they’re not listening.

In their increasingly public ruminations about why this is “happening to them” there is zero self-reflection about the biggest factor behind their demise: That they have lost credibility with their former public. Asking “why” just isn’t done in polite company. The big dirty secret that they must deny at all costs is that they did this to themselves by abandoning the interests of the majority of the public in favor of targeting only those readers with expendable cash that advertisers want to reach.

Which is why it is particularly poetic that, for example, the Miami Herald, which had transparently become what I’ve long called “Oligarch’s Daily” in its efforts to pander to the wretched refuse of the oligarch diaspora in Southern Florida, saw its circulation fall over the last year by 23 percent to just 162,260: it now reaches only three percent of its 5.4 million metropolitan area population. Those numbers simply are not sustainable to keep fielding a gaggle of professional simulators like Frances Robles to pretend to be “journalists” in order to disinform the US public about events in Latin America. The pink slip begins its inexorable journey into hers and others’ hands. It truly is only a matter of time.

There are days when this online newspaper exceeds the daily readership of most of those US dailies, and we’re not even close in sheer numbers to those like Markos Moulitsas and Andrew Sullivan who out-gun all of them every single day in circulation.

And yet while the US version of the newspaper is dying, we’ve written about print news projects in Latin America that are growing while their north-of-the-border counterparts are shriveling up. The daily Por Esto! in less than two decades became the third largest daily in Mexico by opening its arms and doors to the larger community and hosting public assemblies to listen to its readers rather than just talk at them.

Today, Narco News correspondent Belén Fernández reports on the fast growth of Tegucigalpa, Honduras’ El Libertador (and the efforts by the coup regime to buy its loyalty and then to shut it down when it could not be bought), now with a daily readership of over 80,000 in a country of 7.5 million. By the numbers, it already enjoys a larger percent of the national population’s readership than the largest daily in the US, one which was founded in 1882.

Some of us professional journalists, allied with the lay citizenry in our distrust of the advertiser model of media, saw this coming years ago and set about building the authentic journalism renaissance from below. Our work is an international hemispheric laboratory in creating what will replace the old model of daily newspapers. We do it without investors or advertisers. That you, kind reader, are here reading these words is your first evidence that it is working.

And every time a daily newspaper of the obsolete model lays off another round of reporters, more of them come to us to study and learn the craft anew from this very different and opposite angle: from below, as opposed to the top down model that encrusted around them and doomed the previous version of their careers.

Truth is, there is a direct correlation between the space in the media sphere that gets freed up every time a daily newspaper loses circ or dies and the increased reach that we and others have as we replace them with a better more people-powered model.

So don’t mourn the American daily newspaper. Anything you liked about it will continue but from a different set of new media. The time will come when one or more of those publications, or a new one yet to come in the US, will turn to the models that work for the daily Por Esto! or El Libertador or others South of the border, kissing their slavish dependence on advertisers goodbye and throwing their lot in, instead, with the larger multitudes of society.

The garden of authentic democracy grows stronger when the weeds are pulled out of the soil. And so day in, day out, we tend to this garden, water and feed it, watching the seeds we planted and protected grow bigger and stronger than the former parasitical vines and weeds that society mistook, based only on their size, for the garden itself. It’s all good: Evolution wins again.

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About Al Giordano


Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.

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