Four major newspaper publishers have filed for bankruptcy since December of last year. The Rocky Mountain News in Denver has now entirely ceased to exist. With the Seattle Post-Intelligencer having produced its final print edition after 150 years of publishing and now going entirely on-line and its publisher, Hearst Corporation, considering doing the same soon with its San Francisco Chronicle, the print media appears to be facing an deadly epidemic. Are people just reading the on-line edition of the paper instead of bothering with a hard copy?

Recent research suggests that a high tech shift to the internet is only part of the issue. Overall newspaper readership in the country has declined despite a fairly dramatic corresponding growth in the on-line newspaper industry. Fourteen percent (14%) of Americans said they read an on-line newspaper yesterday according to the Pew Research Center’s 2008 news media consumption survey. This number is up from the nine percent (9%) who said they had done so two years earlier. Despite this fact, the survey findings still showed that only thirty-nine percent (39%) of Americans said they read any newspaper yesterday (whether print or on-line), down from a forty-three percent (43%) figure two years ago.

Americans are simply not following the news as closely as they used to, and this trend is not only the product of a new generation gradually replacing an older generation. The Pew Research shows that there has been a dropoff in newspaper readership even among the Silent and Greatest Generation voters (those born before 1946) and among the Baby Boomers (those born 1946 and 1964). Silent and Greatest Generation voters have dropped from sixty-five percent (65%) to fifty-three percent (53%) regular newspaper readers over the last decade, and baby boomers dropped from forty-seven percent (47%) to forty-two percent (42%) in just the last two years.

In our world, where much energy is poured into winning public affairs or political campaigns, this drop off in the print media is just part of a much bigger picture, a picture that shows all off-line media on the decline. Another Pew Research Poll, conducted November 6th through 9th of last year, asked 1500 actual election day voters where they got most of their news about the presidential election campaign. This same question, asked after the 1992 Presidential Election, elicited a response from eighty-two percent (82%) of Americans that they received most of their news from television. Not a single respondent cited the internet on that survey. In November of 2008, television was still the dominant news source for political coverage, but only sixty-eight percent (68%) of Americans now offered this response. On the other hand, the internet was cited by an amazing thirty-six percent (36%) of Americans. For the first time, more Americans cited the internet than cited newspapers (33%).

If print media is on life support and broadcast media is also clearly in decline, successful candidates and consultants must come to grips with everything the internet has to offer or risk their own loss of relevance.

Public Opinion Strategies