Declining newspaper circulation in a divided society

Despite the early, national interest to the candidacies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, the circulation and advertising revenues of daily newspapers in the U.S. continued to drop precipitously over the past year according to the Pew Research Center’s “State of the News Media 2016” report. The question is what’s causing the accelerating circulation decline and will owners do anything about it?

Let’s look at the numbers first: Weekday circulation fell 7% in 2015 while Sunday circulation dipped 4%. Further bad news is a decline in advertising revenue of 8% between 2014 and 2015. Even digital ad revenue declined, although only by 2%.

These numbers contrast with world media data, which show booming circulation, especially online. Print circulation worldwide grew just under 5% in 2015, confirming a trend that shows 21.6% increase in print circulation over the past five years. The majority of that increase comes from China and India. Print circulation for North America declined 10.9 percent during the same time period.

I doubt anyone has the data, but I suspect the percent of print and online newspaper readership among supporters of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump is much lower than the national average. Both groups are disaffected with the mainstream narrative as demonstrated by their support for candidates who challenged that narrative. If they do subscribe to a mainstream newspaper, my guess is the majority access that publication online and few receive the print edition.

One can’t blame these citizens from giving up on large daily newspapers. Much of the news they are interested in can be obtained faster and cheaper online or from the TV. Further, the editorial pages of most daily newspapers largely ignore the issues Trump and Sanders supporters feel important or present positions that contrast with their own. Further many editorials and columnists disparaged dissident voters as racists, homophobes, and worse.

Will owners make course corrections in light of the above data or tweak their current game plans? I’m convinced we won’t see any major changes. Why? The newspaper industry has already responded to projections of declining circulation by seeking revenue from its online product, by consolidating operations, and by generating revenue from other sources. Hence, they have no incentive to change their papers’ editorial focus, which today makes many columns and editorials appear as if they were written by the Democratic National Committee, if not by White House staff.

Buying into the Democrat/Liberal national narrative is the safest bet for media owners. They don’t need a crystal ball to see that Hillary Clinton is the presumptive winner and that little will change in Washington. Therefore to listen to dissidents or challenge the national narrative would only invite unwanted scrutiny and probably alienate their current readers, most of whom agree with their editorial outlook.

Media owners are probably correct in assuming being more critical of Washington would not result in disaffected citizens taking out subscriptions. All they need to do is print the occasional column by a conservative or an elected Republican, and they can maintain the appearance of neutrality.

There is an unfortunate consequence of the world of today’s newspaper industry, which is that they are playing a major role in dividing our nation in two. On one side with the newspaper industry is what we can call the Washington elite. These people are committed to increasing government’s reach into every aspect of daily life. On the other side are the average citizens whose views are not taken into account––people who resent Washington’s intrusion into every aspect of their lives, including which bathroom their children use at school. These are the people who lost their jobs or had them reduced from full to part-time by Obamacare, the war on coal and other environmental dictates, and by overregulation of every aspect of business practice. These are the people whose taxes provide more in cash and services to illegal immigrants than they can bring home from a $50,000/year salary.

From today’s divided society we got Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Many Sanders supporters feel he was robbed by undemocratic provisions of the Democratic Party’s primary system. They will stay home in 2016, but they will be looking for the next Bernie to run in 2020. Trump’s ego may have prevented him from having a realistic chance to win in November. I’ve talked to people who hate the Democrats, but will not vote for The Donald due to his failure to stay on message, but those people will also be around in 2020 looking for someone to challenge the mainstream narrative. All bets would be off if those two groups ever teamed up. Meanwhile, newspaper editors might do themselves a favor by listening to disaffected Americans instead of dissing them.