Home Again

I’m back home in California after visiting Philadelphia and suburban New Jersey. I did little of consequence to this blog, except perhaps observing how my siblings stay informed without newspaper subscriptions.

My brother-in-law the scientist takes the Sunday New York Times and reads it while having breakfast the rest of the week. Otherwise he uses Google News to scan the headlines. If a story piques his interest, he’ll check out the NYT online (not sure how their new charging policies will intersect with those practices). His wife, also a scientist, gets her news watching TV while using the exercise machine in the basement.

My sister the entrepreneur takes the Wall Street Journal. I saw a dozen unwrapped and unread papers piled up in her home office. She reads them in batches. Sounds like a duty rather than a pleasure. My brother the lawyer is another online browser. He used to read a lot of blogs but has scaled that way back as he found it cut into his work time. Another brother and sister I didn’t query. But I saw no newspapers in their homes. Only my mom, who is in her 70s, reads the free local paper that is dropped on her New Jersey suburban driveway.

The common threads are time and need. These are married working people with children. They don’t have time to read the print paper at home before work, and their commutes don’t allow it (my brother, the ex blog reader, used to buy a paper and read it on the train but now he commutes by car).

This reminds me of how afternoon newspapers blinked out of existence in the last 40 years. For instance, an entry from a history of the Kansas City newspapers says:

“1965: The Times circulation reaches 347,742, exceeding for the first time The Star’s. It represented the first stirrings of a lifestyle change that saw the demise of afternoon papers nationwide and of the afternoon Star in 1990.”

Much has been written about how young people are deserting newspapers. “Only one-fifth of people under 40 read the newspaper everyday, according to author and journalism professor David Mindich … author of “Tuned Out: Why Young People Don’t Follow the News” (Oxford University Press, Oct. 2004, $20).”

Could it be that new lifestyle changes will lead to the demise of the morning newspaper? Or do print media consumers want a different type of product? During my trip to Philadelphia I picked up a Metro paper — a free daily, tabloid in style, with great color graphics and precious little news but plenty of ads. Here is a snippet from an interesting European website about the Metro phenomenon:

“The Luxembourg-based Metro chain has free papers in the Americas, Asia and Europe … The Metro group now publishes 40 free daily Metro editions in 61 major cities in 16 countries in 15 languages across Europe, North & South America and East Asia. The group claims that Metro’s advertising sales have grown at a compound annual rate of 47% since the launch of the first edition in 1995 … The Metro editions are distributed in “high-traffic commuter zones or in public transport networks from a combination of self-service racks and by hand distributors on weekdays.”

I also came across a site put up by a Dutch media studies professor that contains research on free newspapers. I’lll park a link here now and perhaps come back to it later, as I have run out of time this morning.

Tom Abate
‘Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media