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Falling papers

Dark days for newspapers have been here so long it’s hard to remember when they were a growing, thriving medium. When was that? A century ago, when most mid-sized to large communities still had two or three? A half-century ago, when all but a few communities were monopoly markets but the papers still had strong penetration into their communities?

Circulation reports for daily newspapers, according to the new FAS-FAX reports, are down almost everywhere, large papers and small alike.

The Portland Oregonian, with the largest weekday circulation of any paper in the Northwest (it ranks 19th overall nationally), dropped to 333,515, about 4,200 less than a year ago – this following year after year of decline.

But that drop was at least only a little over a percentage point; they’d not want to trade places with their counterparts in Seattle. There, the dominant Seattle Times is down in a single year by by 6.7 %, to 215,502. The picture for the Post-Intelligencer is even worse, down 8.9 %, all the way to 119,823 – not much more than half the Times. Not so many years ago, the two papers were at least in the same size range.

The Tacoma News-Tribune (which also declined, but more gently), at 123,213 subsribers, is now larger than one of the Seattle dailies. The only Washington state paper gaining circulation in the last year is the little Longview Daily News.

This has some worrying implications for society’s ability to keep itself informed. Newspapers are the only large, local, comprehensive daily news gatherers we have; others play sometimes important but subsidiary roles. What happens if the day comes when they hit the irreducible minimum?

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