Annabel Kent, Chicago Media Critic
It’s no secret that Chicago’s two major daily newspapers are circling the drain.
According to chicagoist.com, in 2011:
Fewer Chicagoans are getting their fingers stained turning the pages of newspapers. Daily circulation for both the Tribune and Sun-Times for the six-month period ending Sept. 30, [declined] according to numbers from the Audit Bureau of Circulations.
The Tribune's daily circulation fell by 2.7 percent to 425,370, while the Sun-Times' weekday numbers of 236,371 reflected a 7.2 percent drop. There was some good news for the Tribune. Their Sunday circulation numbers rose to 781,128. The Sun-Times' Sunday numbers fell slightly to 233,445.
Compare those numbers with these tallied by the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC), according to the Tribune, in the not too distant past.
Tribune March to Sept. 05 950,582 (S) 586,122 (M-F)
Tribune March to Sept. 06 937,907 (S) 576,132 (M-F)
Tribune March to Sept. 07 917,868 (S) 559,404 (M-F)
Tribune March to Sept. 08 864,845 (S) 516,032 (M-F)
Sun-Times March to Sept. 05 281,129 (S) 349,968 (M-F)
Sun-Times March to Sept. 06 264,371 (S) 341,448 (M-F)
Sun-Times March to Sept. 07 244,962 (S) 326,018 (M-F)
Sun-Times March to Sept. 08 255,905 (S) 313,176 (M-F)
In the seven years from 2005-2011, the Monday-Friday circulation of the Trib went from 586,122 to 425,370. For the Sun Times, the numbers declined from 349,968 to 236,371. In the old math, that’s a 27% decline in daily circulation for the Trib in the last 7 years, and a 32% decline for the Sun Times.
In short, Chicago’s two major dailies are in a drag race to the cliff.
Causes for their decline abound. People are increasingly looking to the internet for news. TV cable channels have multiplied with outlets offering up-to-the-minute, 24-hour news. Younger generations have grown up with cell phone where they can now read the news while commuting on the train, keeping their fingers clean of ink.
There’s another reason the two big old dailies are dying.
More and more readers are less and less trusting of the veracity of what they read there. Case in point:
During the run-up to the 2008 Presidential election, both Chicago dailies served as shills for the Obama Campaign. The vetting of candidate Obama was powder-puff league quality, rather than hardball major league reporting. Puffery prevailed.
Sure, Chicago’s long been a Democrat Party town, and many Trib and Sun Times readers support the bias. But others, particularly those in the burbs, live where Democrat water doesn’t run as deep as in the City.
For the Fourth Estate, there’s a price to be paid for playing fast-and-loose with the news. Even those in sympathy with a bias, whatever it may be, eventually lose their underlying confidence in a news source the spins the story line, drives a meme, and promotes a political theme.
Let’s say it aloud: The two Chicago dailies helped Senator Barack Obama become President Obama.
The Tribune cooked the news somewhat more so than the Sun Times, but both outlets promoted his election. And as his presidency fails, some of the blame is falling at the feet of the Chicago print media that helped put him in the White House.
Today, if readers want to more fully understand Chicago and national politics they must expand the horizons of their news sources to include Chicago’s New Media.
If the people of Northern Illinois want to stay abreast of stories like the Rezko and Blago trials, they need to visit outlets like the Chicago Daily Observer and Citizen WElls. Both websites are linked in the margin of this website, along with Steve Bartin’s Newsalert, a running, updated compendium of current articles covering a variety of topics of interest, specializing in political corruption. A national pastime these days.
These are the news sources of the future – Chicago’s New Media. For the Old Media is dying a slow, self-inflicted death. And the New is just now being born.
Meanwhile, there will always be homes that welcome the old ink and paper media.