TV Generation vs. the Millennials (What’s Black & White & No Longer Read?)

I was disturbed but not surprised to see a new statistic on the fall in newspaper readership in the U.S. this week. The New York Times reported that the Audit Bureau of Circulations figures show average weekday sales of newspapers across the U.S. have dropped nine percent from a year ago.

Newspaper readership is sinking fast in the U.S., but in many other places, newspapers are holding their own. In Sweden, 80 percent of the population read newspapers. In Israel this figure is 95 percent. And Japan has the highest newspaper sales in the world. By contrast, only 39 percent of Americans in a Pew survey last year said they had read a newspaper the previous day.

Many analysts blame the Internet for the decline in newspaper reading in theU.S., but the 39 percent figure above includes online papers! I’ve also heard people say the cause is the instant availability of news, 24 hours a day online and on TV and radio. To me, this doesn’t explain the situation. Other countries have access to news updates all day, either online or via broadcast or both, and yet their newspaper readership figures are still very high. And TV network news programs are dying here, too. It scares me to think of our democracy with so few people reporting – and reading – the news.

Mine was the first generation to grow up watching TV. Sure, we watched cartoons and “I Love Lucy,” but we also watched Dave Garroway and Barbara Walters on the “Today Show” every morning. We watched the Kennedy and Nixon debate on TV, and a few years later cried while we watched President Kennedy’s funeral. In 1969, we were awestruck and excited as we witnessed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon, but horrified at the bloody images from the Viet Nam war on the network news.

We were the TV generation, but we also read the newspaper.  We saw first-hand what a powerful effect the news could have with the courageous publication of the Pentagon Papers by the New York Times in 1971. The result was severe damage to President Richard Nixon’s credibility and a shift in public opinion on the Viet Nam War. The skillful reporting of the two Washington Post journalists that brought Nixon down further reinforced the importance that newspapers play.

In the U.S., both newspaper and TV network news staffs are shrinking fast. A report last fall that almost 36,000 journalism jobs had been lost in the U.S. over the previous 12 months came as no shock to anyone in my industry. We work on a daily basis with the media and see this close up. In the last year or two there have been numerous prominent newspaper bankruptcies and closings. Many TV news shows have morphed into entertainment or disappeared.

We try to explain this trend to our clients from overseas and they find it hard to understand because contacting newspaper reporters in their countries is the way to reach almost everyone. We tell them that in America, especially if they want to be known by the “Millennials” – the 20-somethings who grew up using the Internet – they’d better starting learning how to use Facebook, Twitter and a host of other popular new media formats.

by Lucy Siegel

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5 Responses to “TV Generation vs. the Millennials (What’s Black & White & No Longer Read?)”

  1. Shira Miller Says:

    Great analysis, Lucy. I agree that this decline in newspaper readership is sad and what is astonishing is how fast it has happened. Just a couple of years ago, scoring a story in USA Today or the Wall Street Journal worked wonders for our clients. But now, my PR campaigns are becoming more focused on social media to reach their target audiences.

    • Bridge Global Strategies Says:

      Shira, thanks for coming to the blog and commenting! As to the WSJ, NY Times, etc., our clients are finally beginning to realize that being written about in The Huffington Post, Engadget or AOL’s Daily Finance is as powerful or more so than being covered by traditional media.

  2. Paul Furiga Says:

    Lucy, excellent analysis. There’s no doubt the old media model is dying. I spent 20 years in journalism and lived it. That doesn’t necessarily mean all hope is lost, on the contrary, like all great business transformations, this one creates opportunity. I provided some reasons why in my blog, “Journalists of the future, we need you! (um now . . . ) at this link:

    Thanks again for a great post!


    • Bridge Global Strategies Says:

      Paul, thanks for your comment and for reading my blog post! I went to read what YOU wrote and left you a comment there. I agree with you, but fear that the transformation that will create new opportunities for journalism will take some time and I worry about the fate of journalists and journalism in the meantime!

  3. Love Lyrics Says:

    Thanks for sharing, I found this story, while googling for some free downloads and ran across this website, useful comments and great points made.

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