Daily papers in decline

“Among the five major dailies in the Chicago of my early boyhood, my father preferred the Daily News, an afternoon paper reputed to have excellent foreign correspondents,” says Joseph Epstein in Commentary. “Democratic in its general political affiliation, though not aggressively so, the Daily News was considered the intelligent Chicagoan’s paper.”

Something has happened, however.  Epstein cites all the familiar grim details about newspapers’ decline in our day:

Four-fifths of Americans once read newspapers; today, apparently fewer than half do. Among adults, in the decade
1990-2000, daily readership fell from 52.6 percent to 37.5 percent. Among the young, things are much worse: in one study, only 19 percent of those between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four reported consulting a daily paper, and only 9 percent trusted the information purveyed there; a mere 8 percent found newspapers helpful, while 4 percent
thought them entertaining.

He adds loss of advertising, draconic staff cutbacks, reduction in size of pages, UK parallels to all this.  His father read his Daily News religiously, but

Today, his son reads no Chicago newspaper whatsoever. A serial killer could be living in my apartment building, and I would be unaware of it until informed by my neighbors. As for the power of the press to shape and even change my mind, I am in the condition of George Santayana, who wrote to his sister in 1915 that he was too old to “be influenced
by newspaper argument. When I read them I form perhaps a new opinion of the newspaper but seldom a new opinion on the subject discussed.”

He gets the NY Times, reading it (a) to see who died, (b) to learn “if anyone has hit upon a novel way of denigrating President Bush; the answer is invariably no, though they seem never to tire of trying,” and (c) in general to stay abreast of what’s said, as Santayana did in 1915.  This daily exercise takes him a half hour.

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