The current President of the United States has a very strong ability to discern weakness in long-unchallenged institutions. For example, the President often attacks the news media as “dangerous and sick”. He has stated the news media are the “enemy of the people”.
This column will explain why the President feels both comfortable and safe while making these attacks. Specifically, this column will look at the crumbling power of Florida’s newspapers.
There is a quote attributed to Mark Twain that goes “Never pick a fight with a person who buys ink by the barrel.” That was very true in the time of Twain when there was no internet, no radio stations, and, no television stations. Newspapers then were king and larger cities had multiple papers serving the community.
Up until the 1970s the primary source of sharing information was through newspapers. Here are two Florida newspaper examples and the power they once had.
In Miami-Dade County there is the Miami Herald. The Herald has won the most Pulitzers prizes in Florida, twenty-three.
In 1950 the daily circulation of the Miami Herald was 176,000 papers. In the Miami statistical area in 1950 there were 151,725 occupied dwelling units. That equals more than 1.1 newspapers for every home in Miami. While I realize Herald delivered to businesses, put papers in newspaper boxes, and delivered to newsstands. For comparison purposes I am going to look at papers to occupied dwelling units.
In 2018 the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald total daily circulation is 78,632. There are now 1,024,211 households in Miami-Dade County. This means 92.5% of the households do not get a printed paper while 7.5% do. The Herald does have 11,947 electronic subscriptions on top of what it prints but at best that gets you up to 8.8%.
Do you think the President sees strength or weakness there?
The Tallahassee Democrat is in better shape than the Miami Herald but not by much. In 2005 the daily circulation of the Democrat was 49,652. In 2018 the circulation was 18,825.
There are 129,665 households in Leon County as of 2017. This means six out of seven households do not get a daily paper. Only 14.5% do get papers. The reported on-line circulation for the paper in 2017 was 1,930. Adding on-line to print you get 16% or 84% are not reading the paper.
In Miami 14 of 15 households do not get a paper. In the capital county five of six do not.
The power of the newspaper has dramatically declined during my lifetime. I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, where the Cleveland Plain Dealer (a paper I used to deliver regardless of weather conditions) was the morning paper and the Cleveland Press was the afternoon paper. The Press went under and only the Plain Dealer survives.
The importance of newspapers endorsements, editorials, and, reporting has also declined. The President knows this and that is why he attacks the media.
The President’s twitter account has the 13th largest following in the United States with 59 million followers. The estimated total daily circulation of all newspapers in the United States is 31 million. Delivering a message by Twitter does not require deep thought. They are often superficial and hyperbolic.
The larger newspapers regularly report the President’s twitter posts verbatim so the President in many areas is getting free advertisements because utterances of Presidents are considered news.
Newspapers and their editorial boards were once the gatekeepers to news. With the ease of access to the internet each person now serves as their own individual gatekeeper to news. Individuals no longer have to read general interest newspapers. They can limit their reading to their own interests. Niche news sources may thrive because they will cater to the specific interests of a portion of America.
If you go to your local hospice you may find in one of the beds a general circulation newspaper. When the newspaper in hospice passes I will miss the newspaper because I grew up with them. I will read about their demise on the internet.
Jon M. Ausman is the longest serving member of the Democratic National Committee in Florida’s history (December 1992 to January 2017). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 850-321-7799.