The circulation of newspapers across the country is steadily declining. That's not news. What is noteworthy is how rapidly the readership of two of Colorado's biggest daily newspapers may be dropping and what some newly released research could mean for the future of print journalism.
The total paid circulation of the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News, both published by the Denver Newspaper Agency, has fallen by 11.9 percent over the last year, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC). That's a much steeper backslide than the 2.6 percent average drop experienced by newspapers nationwide.
But there is hope for the Post, the Rocky Mountain News and, by extension, newspapers everywhere. This is according to a study by Scarborough Research, which says the overall readership of both papers is holding strong. Scarborough's data shows 1.3 million people read the two dailies either in print or online, roughly the same number of folks who were reading the physical papers back in 2005. This shows online readership is increasing even if less people are reading the papers in print.
So what does this mean and why should we care? For one thing, it's clear the Internet is a key tool in the fight to save the medium of print journalism. As just one example, the Weekly Alibi's website, alibi.com, attracted nearly 40,000 unique users last month, a record and a sign that perhaps the more things change, the more things will stay the same, or even get better. In other words, perhaps as hardcopy subscriptions decrease, online readership will increase to fill the void. This also means print journalism outfits that are slow to embrace the Internet and other Internet-spawned phenomena like newspaper-run blogs may soon find themselves hemorrhaging readers.
Blogs are also an exciting addition to newspaper websites because they allow writers to interact with their readers and vice-versa, making both components of the journalism equation seem less foreign and detached from one another. This can lead to a more intimate relationship between readers and writers that should help newspapers better hold onto their followers. Additionally, blogs operated by a newspaper would be more likely to adhere to journalistic standards, unlike traditional blogs which have been criticized for not doing so.
We can only hope such tactics work in maintaining print readership because a great deal of the real, honest, hard-nosed reporting done in this country is still accomplished by print journalists. Would we have known the National Security Agency was authorized by President Bush to eavesdrop on Americans without warrants if the New York Times didn’t break the story? Would the Abu Ghraib prison scandal have been brought to the public's attention without print journalists? Even locally, the Albuquerque Police Department's evidence room scandal in 2005 may not have been exposed if Albuquerque Journal reporter T.J. Wilham hadn't written about it.
A society informed exclusively by sound bite-driven television news isn't an enticing prospect. Hopefully, our nation's newspaper readers understand this. Otherwise, dark days of journalism loom ahead.