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  Chapter Fifteen:

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Per capita newspaper circulation increased during the first half of the century and declined during the second half.
Newspaper circulation proved resistant to the advent of national news magazines in the 1920s, but began to lose ground first to television news around 1950; then to all-news radio broadcast and cable television stations in the 1980s; and then to the Internet, with its innumerable news sources, in the 1990s. Competition from these other media had an enormous impact on newspaper circulation: after growing 56 percent from 1904 to 1947, daily newspaper circulation per thousand population dropped 44 percent between 1947 and 1998. 

But newspapers remained a critical part of the nation’s communications system. Despite the ever-increasing volume of information purveyed by competing media, the daily newspaper seemed to hold a place as the trusted recorder of local, national, and international events. Many newspapers became part of media conglomerates that also produced television programs, magazines, and huge Internet sites, which often recycled information first published in newspapers. The Washington Post alone spent $85 million on Internet operations in 1999. 

While aggregate circulation increased throughout the first half of the century, the number of newspapers declined continuously. In 1900, most cities of moderate size had both morning and evening papers, and every major city had a rack of competing papers. Fewer than fifty cities had competing papers at the end of the century. As recently as 1980, evening papers outnumbered morning papers. In 1998, morning papers were four times as numerous as evening papers. This change was probably related to the greater impact of television news programs on the circulation of evening papers. 

On the other hand, at the end of the century, two daily newspapers—USA Today and the Wall Street Journal—had achieved national readership. Another, the New York Times, was read far beyond its original domain. 

In 1900, less than a fifth of daily newspapers had Sunday editions. By the end of the century, more than half of them did. Sunday papers—packed with comics, magazines, classified and display advertising, political commentary, style, sports, travel, entertainment, art, book, and business sections—had grown in another way as well: they weighed ten to twenty times as much as their modest precursors of 1900.

Chapter 15 chart 2

Source Notes
Source Abbreviations

HS series R 246–249; SA 1988, table 892; SA 1999, table 942; and NYT 1999, pages 389–390. On the Post’s move to the Internet, see Jeffrey Toobin, “The Regular Guy,” New Yorker, March 2000, pages 94–101.


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