Research Report by Sage Gerson
Created July 22, 2017
Due to newspapers’ accessibility, affordability, educational focus, and public engagement, they provide a good source of information regarding public perception of issues and topics. For these reasons, and more, WE1S will be using newspapers to track the public discourse around the humanities.
Due to the popularity of television news, <1> the invention of the internet,<2> and the 2008 Recession,<3> newspaper circulation numbers in the West declined steeply in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Newspapers are currently working to combat declining revenue and circulation numbers by making content available online. WE1S should consider including online-only written news sources in its research, as some newspapers have moved (or were created) entirely online. Doing so will keep the project’s research representative of a larger section of the public (as young adults, ages 18-39, are most likely to turn to the internet for their news). Additionally, due to rising literacy levels and growth of the middle class in BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), the newspaper industry in the developing world has seen expansion. <4> For example, the English-language newspaper with the largest circulation currently is The Times of India. <5> Including newspapers from India, South Africa, Ireland, and other English-speaking countries beyond Australia, Canada, the U.S., and the U.K., will give the project access to the larger global conversation about the humanities.
Contemporary fields of research that may be interested in this paradigm include the journalism industry, data journalism, history of media and new media scholarship, online advertising industry, mass media scholarship, and historians, newspaper studies and journalism studies, among others. Some of the academic journals that are publishing research on newspapers includes The Newspaper Research Journal, Journalism Quarterly, journalism.org (PEW Research Center), Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Columbia Journalism Review, and American Periodicals.
History and Current State
Newspapers have been around for more than 400 years. <6> Though early examples of newspaper-type publications can be found in ancient Rome, <7> newspapers as we know them rose to popularity and mass distribution after the invention of the printing press. Newspapers are defined as publications that appear regularly and frequently and contain accessible writing about news on a variety of informative topics. <8> Organizations may have their own newspapers, but “the term is more commonly used to refer to daily or weekly publications that bring news of general interest to large portions of the public in a specific geographic area.” <9> As print technology advanced, the cost of creating and printing newspapers dropped, making them an inexpensive way for the public to access information. Because one of the major perceived functions of the newspaper is to provide citizens with information on government, politics, and current events, the newspaper has been linked to the rise of democracy in the West, and is often viewed as a crucial part of informed public engagement. <10>
According to Wikipedia, newspapers typically meet four criteria: 1) public accessibility; 2) periodicity; 3) currency; 4) universality. Newspapers periodicity changes depending on the newspaper, with the typical periodicity being daily, weekly, and biweekly. <11> Some larger newspapers have a morning and evening edition in order to capture breaking news. <12> With the advent of the internet, many newspapers, even those with paper editions, update breaking stories online as they unfold. <13>
A newspaper’s well-being is commonly measured by market penetration, meaning a percentage of households that receive a copy out of the number of households in the paper’s market area. <14> In the early 20th century, newspaper market penetration was 123%, meaning most households received more than one newspaper. <15> In the 1970s, market penetration dipped below 100%.<16> By 2000, it was only 53% and falling.<17>
Decline in newspaper readership is often attributed to several factors, including, the loss of classified advertising to websites like Craigslist and Ebay, and readers choosing to receive their news from the television and the Internet,<18> in addition to difficulty bouncing back after the 2008 Recession. <19> Another challenge contemporary newspapers face is their aging readership. Young newsreaders are choosing to read their news online rather than in print. According to the PEW study, “How People Learn About Their Local Community,” age is the most influential demographic shaping how folks choose to access the news. See Figure 1 below for where newsreaders get their news on certain topics by age. (The Internet is defined as web-only destinations by the Pew Research Center).
Figure 1. The Top Sources for Local News and Information Vary by Age
Contemporary newspapers generate 70-80% of their revenue from advertising and the remaining 20-30% from sales and subscriptions. <20> However, this has not always been the prevailing business model. The first newspaper that decided to subsidize the cost of printing and distributing newspapers, rather than have subscribers and purchasers cover the entire cost of the newspaper, was The Sun in New York City in 1833. <21> Subsidizing their paper with advertisements enabled The Sun to charge 1 cent per copy rather than 6 cents. <22> As print technology advanced, the cost of creating and printing newspapers dropped, making them an inexpensive way for the public to access information. Something we may want to look into or think about is pressure from companies that advertise in newspapers contemporarily. Despite the fact that advertising revenue for newspapers has dropped, the lines between advertising and editorial have been repeatedly blurred on social media, blogs, and in some newspapers. Frédéric Filloux wrote in 2011 for The Guardian that “blurring the line between advertising and editorial is becoming a standard practice on today’s internet.” He goes on, highlighting The Columbia School of Journalism report, “What We Know So Far,” and saying that it “sheds an interesting light on where digital medias are heading. Their economics are in such disarray that publishers are desperate for new revenue models. In this evolution, ethics are likely to suffer collateral damage.” Filloux highlights the Huffington Post and Forbes as news organizations that capitalize on their view counts to appeal to advertisers and then allow companies to pay to write their own posts, respond to readers comments directly on comment boards, and further blur the line between editorial and advertisement.
Another way that American newspapers have attempted to cope with the shrinking industry is through consolidation. <23> For example, Tronc (formerly Tribune Publishing) owns and distributes The San Diego Union Tribune, The Chicago Tribune, and the Los Angeles Times and Digital First Media owns San Jose Mercury News, The Denver Post and the Orange County Register. For a more complete list of American newspapers and the companies who own them, see Wikipedia’s “List of newspapers in the United States”. This is relevant because it could mean that the same national, feature, and international stories are being recycled in different places, despite being published in different regional newspapers. This is particularly interesting as regional and local newspapers have a complicated, but important, impact on local readers (see below for more information). Consolidation is also important because it could mean that certain editorial biases are carried over from region to region, shaping a larger part of the dialogue surrounding an issue.
Many newspapers have, at least partially, moved online. Online newspapers are online versions of print newspapers or stand-alone news publications published solely online. <24> Some newspapers have a portion or all of their content available for free online, and others paywall their content. <25> Going online created opportunities for newspapers, such as presenting breaking news more quickly (as mentioned earlier), and lowering printing overhead. <26> Many viewed moving online as a way to strengthen the newspaper industry’s chance of survival.<27> Moving online has challenged circulation as the primary measurement of a newspaper’s success as subscribers are no longer the only readers of content. The number of newspaper readers who read a newspaper in digital form, or who have subscriptions, is not the same number as the share of Americans who come across individual newspaper stories as they surf the web.
“Consumers of individual bits of information may not remember having read a newspaper, or have even realized that they did. (We have found that most people who read an article on a website do not read any other articles on that site in a given month, suggesting that this kind of incidental readership is common.)* … when it comes to all newspaper website visitors – not just subscribers – the newspapers analyzed all had more digital traffic than print subscribers.”<28>
Figure 2. Sources of traffic for News and Media websites by country, August 2009
However, despite going online, the newspaper industry continues to shrink.“The audience is bigger than ever, if you include all platforms,” says Larry Kilman of the World Association of Newspapers. “It’s not an audience problem — it’s a revenue problem.” As newspapers have moved online, 1/4 of their total advertising revenue also come from online advertisements. Despite this, and declining newspaper circulation numbers, “print remains a vital part of newspapers’ distribution picture. In 2015, print circulation makes up 78% of weekday circulation and 86% of all Sunday circulation. Only three newspapers had more average weekday digital circulation than average weekday print circulation in the same period.”
In order to overcome the industry decline, many newspapers are trying different tactics, many centered around online content. For example, in order to combat shrinking circulation numbers, and in order to profit from the casual online reader, some newspapers now paywall their content. Some paywall all of their content, and others use meter paywalling, or the paywalling of select content. <34> Other newspapers make all of their content available for free online in order to maintain readership numbers, which hopefully translates into advertising revenue (like the Huffington Post). Additionally, there has been a rise in “philanthrojournalism” as yet another way that newspaper companies are addressing revenue slump. Philanthrojournalism is philanthropically funded journalism, where organizations cover costs through grants and donations. Examples of this are the Texas Tribune in Austin and the Bay Citizen in San Francisco. <35>
In 2009, the Senate introduced the “Newspaper Revitalization ACT of 2009” (H.R. 3602 and S. 673) hoping to help newspapers by allowing them to become 501(c)3 non-profit organizations in order to enable them to take advantage of the corresponding tax breaks. <36> The bill would confer a status to newspapers similar to the one currently enjoyed by public broadcasting. News organizations would have to meet the following conditions in order to qualify under the bill: publish a newspaper on a regular basis for general circulation; contain local, national, and international news stories of interest to the general public; that the distribution of the newspaper is necessary or valuable in achieving an educational purpose; and that the preparation of the material contained in such a newspaper follows a methodology generally accepted as educational. Newspapers would remain free to report on all issues, including political campaigns, but they would be prohibited from making political endorsements.
The Newspaper Association of America believed that this proposal had merit but did not see it as a comprehensive solution to the problems of the industry at the time. The bill did not receive very much attention in Congress. <37>
Despite generating a smaller percentage of America’s news consumers than TV news, according to the Pew Research Center, Americans rely on different news sources for different topics, and Americans rely on newspapers as their first source of information on specific topics (see figure 4 below) <38> (“How people learn about their local community,”Pew Research Center).
Figure 3. Which Sources Top the List for 16 Different Local Topics?
Figure 4. The Topics for Which Newspapers are the Top Source
***“Newspapers (both the print and online versions, though primarily print) rank first or tie for first as the source people rely on most for 11 of the 16 different kinds of local information asked about—more topics than any other media source. But most of these topics—many of which relate to civic affairs such as government—taxes, etc., are ones followed by fewer Americans on a regular basis … This dependence on newspapers for so many local topics sets it apart from all other sources of local news. The Internet, which was cited as the most relied upon source for five of the 16 topics, was a distant second to newspapers in terms of widespread use and value.” This suggests that newspapers are still vital sources of local information for Americans. “Local TV draws a mass audience largely around a few popular subjects; local newspapers attract a smaller cohort of citizens but for a wider range of civically oriented subjects.” <39> In fact, the Pew study found that more Americans relied on newspapers for local news topics than they did the Internet. <40>
As of 2017, the Press Freedom Index has ranked the United States number 43rd for press freedom out of 180 countries. The U.S. has less press freedom than most of Europe, Canada, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Ghana, South Africa, Chile, and other countries. <41> This is important to note because the Press Freedom Index takes into account “media independence, environment and self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency, and infrastructure,” as well as violence against journalists, including those attributable to the government, but also pressure from outside groups and organizations, <42> meaning that despite the fact that American journalists are constitutionally able to practice free speech, self-censorship and outside pressure still exists. The Press Freedom Index wrote this about American journalism:
US press freedom, enshrined in the First Amendment to the 1787 constitution, has encountered several major obstacles over the past few years, most recently with the election of President Donald Trump. He has declared the press an “enemy of the American people” in a series of verbal attacks toward journalists, while attempting to block White House access to multiple media outlets in retaliation for critical reporting. Despite the bleak outlook under Trump, it bears repeating that his predecessor left behind a flimsy legacy for press freedom and access to information. Journalists continue to be arrested for covering various protests around the country, with several currently facing criminal charges. The Obama administration waged a war on whistleblowers who leaked information about its activities, leading to the prosecution of more leakers than any previous administration combined. To this day, American journalists are still not protected by a federal “shield law” guaranteeing their right to protect their sources and other confidential work-related information. And over the past few years, there has been an increase in prolonged searches of journalists and their devices at the US border, with some foreign journalists being prevented from any travel to the US after they covered sensitive topics such as Colombia’s FARC or Kurdistan.<43>
Figure 5. World Press Freedom Index 2017
What the WhatEvery1Says Project Can Learn
Statement of Relevance/Limitations of the Paradigm to the WE1S Scoping Problem
WE1S will use newspapers to track the public discourse surrounding the humanities across organizations and time. Because newspapers were the most popular news source of the 19th and early/mid-20th century, newspapers are highly relevant sources of public perception and conversation for that time period. Even as paid circulation numbers and advertising revenue have declined within the newspaper industry in the latter half of the 20th century and the first decades of the 21st century, newspapers themselves still provide the public with a wider range of civic subjects than TV news or the Internet. As mentioned above, PEW found that more Americans relied on newspapers for local news topics than they did the Internet. Newspapers (whether online or print) remain accessible and affordable and designed to educate the public. In fact, Kilman, of the World Association of Newspapers, even claims that news audiences have grown in the 21st century, despite revenue continuing to fall. However, because the newspaper industry has shrunk so much in the past 60 years, WE1S will have to, in some ways, justify the project’s choice of newspapers as the barometer of public discourse (instead of, say, TV news). This research summary has found several points of interest that support the use of newspapers. The first is the PEW Research Center’s findings that the majority of Americans turn to newspapers for news on 11/16 local topics, including the arts and news about schools. The second finding echoes Kilman’s assertion above that number of readers has grown, if we include casual readers beyond just paid circulation numbers. The inclusion of metrics beyond circulation, and the inclusion of data from online written news sources would begin to address these changes within the newspaper industry and readership. Finally, newspapers continue to play an important role in the majority of Americans’ consumption of news and continue to have a vital role alongside new media sources: “Most Americans, including more tech-savvy adults under age 40 … use a blend of both new and traditional sources to get their information. Overall, the picture revealed by the data is that of a richer and more nuanced ecosystem of community news and information than researchers have previously identified.” <44>
Two of the major limitations presented by WE1S’s use of newspapers are that, since the 1970s into the present, the majority of Americans get their news from the television. Thus, newspaper paid circulation numbers have fallen in the Western world since the 1970s. This means that, in some ways, the newspaper, though historically significant, may be viewed as an archaic news source. However, focusing solely on television news would not present the entire contemporary news picture either, as newspapers do remain vital sources of local news, and the newspaper industry continues to grow in developing nations such as India. The second major limitation presented by WE1S’s use of newspapers to track public perception of the humanities is that the project is limited to English language publications only, which leaves out news reports from non-English speaking countries who have rich humanities histories. However, WE1S’s proposed Spanish language expansion begins to address this limitation. Other, secondary issues that may impose limitations include: the consolidation of news companies (see above for more) and revenue models (again, see above for the contemporary blurring of editorial and advertising). Finally, as has been discussed in earlier WE1S meetings, we will need to pay attention to terminology (i.e. what terms we search for.) Culturally the terms referring to what academics call the humanities change, particularly in academic vs. non-academic settings.
(As mentioned in meetings: arts vs. humanities) It is important to note that the “Newspaper” article on Wikipedia refers to what we would call “the humanities” as “the arts”: “the news includes political events and personalities, business and finance, crime, weather, and natural disasters; health and medicine, science, and computers and technology; sports; and entertainment, society, food and cooking, clothing and home fashion, and the arts.” Wikipedia defines the arts as follows: “in modern academia, the arts are usually grouped with or as a subset of the humanities. Some subjects in the humanities are history, linguistics, literature, theology, philosophy, and/or logic” (“The arts,” Wikipedia***). This pertains to our research, as we are academics (so we use the term “the humanities”), but we are using popular press to conduct our research, so “the arts” may be a term we want to track even in the Americas.)
In addition to being an important local news source and significant historical news source in the United States, newspaper circulation is increasing in developing countries like the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) due to increased literacy and rising income and population (“Newspaper Circulation,” Wikipedia***). In fact, the English-language newspaper with the highest circulation in the world is the Times of India (for more info on the times, visit: ). “Amidst the global impression of print media losing ground, India’s federal body that registers publications says print media is growing in India by 6.25%. Both number and circulation of registered newspapers have gone up. Hindi publications lead followed by English at No. 2 and Urdu at No. 3” (“Print Media grows by 6.25%; Urdu at No. 3,” TwoCircles***). This is of interest to the 4HumWE1S project because both India and South Africa have many English-language newspapers, meaning they will be important sites that extend our research beyond the Western world when we scale up to the global level.
As mentioned above, the US has been ranked 43rd for Press Freedom by Reporters without Borders’ annual Press Freedom Index Report. Press Freedom should be a factor of consideration for our project, particularly because we have chosen to focus our efforts on newspapers as a window into public perception and the newspapers’ history is closely tied with freedom of speech and print movements. Our project will want to consider gathering newspaper sources from across the Press Freedom Index spectrum. For example, New Zealand (13), Ireland (14), Australia (19), Canada (22) and South Africa (31) all rank as having more press freedom than the United Kingdom (40) and United States (43), whereas Hong Kong (73), India (136), both rank towards the lower half.
It will be important for WE1S to examine regional and local newspapers. Not only do Americans report learning about 11/16 local topics from local newspapers, but local newspapers were some of the only newspapers to add paid circulation numbers while larger newspapers continued to lose paid circulation. “A few newspapers, mostly smaller ones, added subscribers during the reporting period [April-September 2009]. Of all the newspapers with a paid circulation of more than 50,000, the York Daily Record in Pennsylvania saw the biggest increase, rising 16.5 percent to 55,370. Additionally, as PEW outlines, “Among all adults, newspapers were cited as the most relied-upon source or tied for most relied upon for crime, taxes, local government activities, schools, local politics, local jobs, community/neighborhood events, arts events, zoning information, local social services, and real estate/housing.” As a project interested in arts events and schools, local papers are potentially important sources to find out regional perceptions of the humanities.
Something to determine is how WE1S is defining a newspaper in regards to longevity of existence and in regards to online versus print content. Considering younger news organizations will mean considering many online-only news sources (such as the Huffington Post and Buzzfeed). Considering online-only written news sources so will keep the project’s research representative of a larger section of the public (as young adults, ages 18-39, are most likely to turn to the internet for their news).
Figure 6. Individuals who used the Internet in the last three months for reading/downloading online newspapers/news magazines by age
Working Party on the Information Economy. “The Evolution of News and the Internet.” Directorate for Science, Technology and Industry Committee for Information, Computer and Communications Policy. June 2010. Accessed July 21, 2017. .
Sources for Further Study
Grueskin, Bill, Ava, Seave, and Lucas, Graves. “The Story So Far: What We Know About the Business of Digital Journalism.” Columbia Journalism School. Tow Center for Digital Journalism. May 2011. Accessed July 21, 2017. .
Working Party on the Information Economy. “The Evolution of News and the Internet.” Directorate for Science, Technology and Industry Committee for Information, Computer and Communications Policy. June 2010. Accessed July 21, 2017. .
Links to lists of newspapers by country and circulation numbers
List of newspapers in Australia by circulation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_newspapers_in_Australia_by_circulation
List of newspapers in Canada by circulation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_newspapers_in_Canada_by_circulation
List of newspapers in South Africa (by circulation and province): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_newspapers_in_South_Africa#Newspapers_by_circulation
List of newspapers in the United Kingdom by circulation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_newspapers_in_the_United_Kingdom_by_circulation
List of newspapers in the United States by circulation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_newspapers_in_the_United_States#By_circulation
List of newspapers by continent: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lists_of_newspapers
List of newspapers by circulation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_newspapers_by_circulation
<1> Rosentiel, Tom, Mitchell Amy, Purcell, Kristen, and Rainie, Lee, “How people learn about their local community.”
<2> Working Party on the Information Economy, “The Evolution of News and the Internet.”
<4> “Newspaper,” Wikipedia; “Print Media grows by 6.25%; Urdu at No. 3,” TwoCircles News.
<6> “Newspaper,” Encyclopedia Britannica.
<9> Stephens, Mitchell, “History of Newspapers.”
<11> “Newspaper,” Wikipedia.
<15> “Audience,” Project for Excellence in Journalism.
<18> Fitzgerald, Mark. “How did newspapers get in this pickle?”
<19> Working Party on the Information Economy, “The Evolution of News and the Internet.”
<20> Barthel, Michael, “Newspapers: Fact Sheet.”
<21> “Reinventing the newspaper,” The Economist.
<22> “Newspaper,” Wikipedia.
<23> Barthel, Michael, “Newspapers: Fact Sheet.”
<24> Working Party on the Information Economy, “The Evolution of News and the Internet.”
<25> Barthel, Michael, “Newspapers: Fact Sheet.”
<26> “Online Newspaper,” Wikipedia.
<28> Barthel, Michael, “Newspapers: Fact Sheet.”
<30> “Reinventing the newspaper,” The Economist.
<31> Barthel, Michael, “Newspapers: Fact Sheet.”
<34> “Reinventing the newspaper,” The Economist.
<36> Working Party on the Information Economy, “The Evolution of News and the Internet.”
<39> Rosentiel, Tom, Mitchell Amy, Purcell, Kristen, and Rainie, Lee, “How people learn about their local community.”
<41> “2017 World Press Freedom Index,” Reporters without Borders.
“How people learn about their local community.”Rosentiel, Tom, Mitchell Amy, Purcell, Kristen, and Rainie, Lee,
Sage Gerson is a graduate student in the English Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her interests include the history of science, the energy humanities, environmental justice, and science fiction. Sage can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and found on https://www.english.ucsb.edu/people/gerson-sage.