Too Many People Don't Care If Newspapers Die

by: Jeff Bercovici

In a page-one New York Times story, Richard Pérez-Peña looks at all the reasons why one or more major American cities are likely to be without even a single daily newspaper: plunging ad revenues, burdensome labor contracts, unsustainable debt obligations, competition from nimbler web companies, etc.

Here's another reason for the list: because, obsessed as journalists are with the issue, the average citizen doesn't seem all that concerned with whether newspapers live or die. A poll conducted earlier this month by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found that only 33 percent of Americans believe they would miss their local paper "a lot" if it were to disappear. Over a quarter of respondents said they'd miss it "not at all," with another 16 percent saying they'd miss it "not much."

When the question was how much the loss of the local paper would hurt civic life, sentiments were somewhat more favorable, with 74 percent of respondents saying "a lot" or "some." Interestingly, the numbers weren't all that much lower among those who described themselves as infrequent newspaper readers, with 30 percent of that group saying the disappearance of the local newspaper would hurt civic life a lot, and 36 percent saying there'd be some impact.

Of course, the real question is whether the people in the poll sample can even adequately imagine what it would mean if the local paper went away. No doubt a lot of them think they would simply rely more on local television and/or radio news, without appreciating how much of that coverage is driven by newspapers.