Stop the Presses?
Only a third of survey participants said that they would miss their local paper "a lot" if it closed, while 16% said "not much" and 26% said "not at all." Among those who get their news regularly from papers, a majority reported they would miss it "a lot," compared to 30% of those who read newspapers less often. A startling 42% of those who read papers less often would not miss them at all in their absence.
There are significant generational differences in response to this question, with those over 65 most likely to miss their local paper "a lot" (55%), as opposed to a mere 23% of those in the 18-39 age bracket.
When asked to evaluate the impact of the closing of their local newspaper on civic life, respondents were slightly more attuned to the perils of the current sea change. Forty-three percent said it would affect civic life "a lot," and another 31% said it would have "some" effect. Differences emerge once more based upon frequency of readership and age, with regular and older readers more likely to understand the stakes.
These rather dismal figures probably have something to do with the fact that newspapers are no longer the most common source of news; indeed, they have not been for some time. Nearly two-thirds (66%) of survey participants reported that they watch television regularly as a source of news, compared to 41% for newspapers, 34% for radio, 31% for the Internet, and 13% and 11% respectively for online newspapers and television.
For those who said the loss of their local newspaper would affect civic life "a lot," 30% said it was because people relied upon it as a local source for news, 18% read it regularly for news, 12% said there was only a single paper in their community, and 10% claimed that reading a paper was a habit they enjoy.
Looking at the group that does not see the civic implications of the collapse of their local daily, 29% said there remained alternative sources for news, 20% complained about the quality of their local paper, 10% don't read them anyway, and 9% said that others shun papers, too.
As a young boy, I was enamored by newspapers. Growing up in Milwaukee, I devoured the Sentinel each morning and the Journal come afternoon. During my freshman year of college, I mourned their merger, yet continued my subscription, and learned to love the Chicago Tribune, too, as a regional repository for news. As an adult, I have the luxury of holding a job where news awareness is placed at a premium, and I consult a plethora of papers, both online and in print, on a daily basis.
Results like those reported above trouble me deeply, for I fear that we are casually allowing a linchpin of our democracy to slip away. Restoration of our window into the happenings of government at all levels and news critical to the fabric of our community will be a more difficult task than saving these sentinels from pending disaster. We have a duty to school the next generation in media literacy and consumption, and an obligation to renew our commitment to these daily documents so vital to democracy.