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Local print newspapers are dying, and going digital might not save them

Updated: Sep 12, 2022

I have had many Saturday-night sleepovers at my friend’s house. Every Sunday morning, her mom makes us breakfast, and her dad sits at the kitchen table – coffee cup in hand – reading the local newspaper.

Before reading the Pew Research Local Newspapers Fact Sheet for 2020, I did not give this mundane routine of my friend’s dad a second thought. Now, I am curious if one day I will wake up Sunday morning and see him not reading a physical newspaper, but instead with his coffee cup in one hand, and his phone in the other, scrolling through our local paper’s digital platform.

The Pew Research fact sheet revealed that for both print and digital local newspapers, circulation on Sundays is double that of weekday circulation. There are still people out there like my friend’s dad who enjoy a good Sunday catch-up on the news. However, the number of people like him who enjoy a physical Sunday newspaper is declining quickly. Since 2015, both print circulation for local newspapers on weekdays and Sundays have decreased by more than half. Meanwhile, digital circulation for both weekdays and Sundays has increased by around 25%.

Pew Research shows that digital circulation is not rising at the pace at which print circulation is falling. Another consumer habit that they noticed was that while traffic to digital sites is increasing, the duration of those visits is decreasing. The average person spends around 2.1 minutes on a digital newspaper site.

One thing I love about a print newspaper is that there are no other distractions. One can sit down and read without worrying about a push notification popping up from social media or a text message from a friend. It makes sense why people stay on news sites for such little time. We are overstimulated by the complexity of the digital world. I am concerned that if we lose print newspapers, we might lose the desire to take time to read local stories.

I am slowly coming to terms with the fact that physical newspapers might be dying, but I am still hesitant to do so. I am left with the questions: Are newspaper publications effectively reincarnating themselves into digital sites, or is this shift in consumer habits happening too fast for newspapers to keep up? Could there be potential compromises? I understand that local newspapers need to learn how to reach the increasing digital audience, but I do not think we should have to leave behind all of the people who enjoy a print newspaper. Instead of producing six print papers a week, maybe local publications could drop down to just Sundays and Wednesdays and focus on their digital platform for the others. One day will I walk into my friend’s kitchen on a Sunday morning and see her father not reading any news at all? I hope not.

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