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Political News and Impact: Newspapers Tumble—and Liberals Face Competition (35 of 45)

This is excerpt No. 35 (of 45) from America’s Right Turn: How Conservatives Used New and Alternative Media to Take Power, by Richard A. Viguerie and David Franke.

Back when print media were king, in terms of political news and impact, newspapers were king of the print media, having more influence than even the upstart broadcast television networks.  Those days are long gone, Trump on New York Timesand good riddance.  Conservatives were shut out of the national political discussion back then; today, with the rise of alternative media, we have a voice.

From this perspective in America’s Right Turn, published in 2004, we can see the steady decline of newspapers—a trend that has only increased since 2004.  What is most often overlooked is how the decline is even more precipitous when you factor in population growth (we give you examples of that in this excerpt).  Unfortunately, while their influence with the general public has declined, liberal flagships like the Washington Post and the New York Times still have immense impact in the Washington Swamp.  Some things haven’t changed—yet.

The Not-So-Good Old Days

Back in the not-so-good old days – the late 1950s and early 1960s, when the conservative movement was just getting started – the print media were king.

In the nation at large, the network TV evening news shows were growing in importance as the average Joe’s or Jane’s source of news, but they hadn’t yet overthrown newspapers for that role.  That would come shortly, with the dramatic events of the later ’60s – the leftist antiwar demonstrations, the civil rights protests, and the assassinations of the two Kennedys and Martin Luther King, Jr. – events so graphic and stirring that Americans began turning to the tube first for their news.  But if you could transport yourself back to, say, 1960, you would note that virtually everyone read a newspaper every day.  And not just for the TV listings.

If you were a political junkie in 1960, the print media were even more firmly ensconced as your primary source of news.  In addition to at least one newspaper, you probably subscribed to at least one of the news weeklies (Time, Newsweek, U.S. News), as well as several of the general content magazines that also interpreted current events (Life, Look, Reader’s Digest, the Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s, and others) and perhaps one of the smaller ideological journals (such as The Nation and The New Republic).

No one was distracted from these print media by talk radio as we know it today (didn’t exist), cable television (didn’t exist), or the Internet (really didn’t exist).

Conservatives, being shut out of any representation on TV, were almost entirely dependent on print media as our sources of news.  And there we were on the margins.  We were pretty much shut out of the mass-circulation magazines, and newspaper reporting – even then – was dominated by the liberals.  All we had were some newspaper editorial pages (among the least-read pages of the newspaper) and our tiny alternative media, Human Events and then National Review, plus a few even tinier publications.

What has happened in the decades since then, of course, is the explosion in new and alternative media, as documented in this book, giving conservatives (finally!) a seat at the mass-media table.  The print media haven’t disappeared as news sources, they just have lots of competition today, and each year that competition gets more of the spoils.

Within the world of the print media during the past four decades, liberals continued to dominate the ranks of newspaper reporters – every survey of the political beliefs of newspaper reporters shows that to be the case.  (Of course, they say it doesn’t affect their reporting.)  Newspaper editorials have lost their importance as they’ve become increasingly bland, but the op-ed (opposite the editorial) page – once it was invented in the ’60s – has become an important source of political interpretation.  Steadily, conservatives have come to dominate the ranks of op-ed columnists.  So while newspapers are not a new or alternative medium, op-ed newspaper columns could be considered an alternative medium for conservatives, offsetting the liberal tone of the rest of the newspaper.

The newsmagazines continue to be establishment liberal in orientation, but few people read them cover to cover as they once did – you’re more likely to skip through them while waiting for your dentist’s or chiropractor’s appointment.  The mass-circulation general content magazines have disappeared, replaced by hundreds of special-interest niche magazines – no political revolution there.  The small-circulation ideological magazines have expanded in numbers if not in overall importance, and conservatives now have a fair representation among them.  And one of the most noticeable changes has come in the world of book publishing.  Books have not disappeared, as it once was the fashion to predict.  They have maintained their importance as transmitters of political and cultural ideas, and conservatives now have far more representation in this medium than before.

Who reads a newspaper, anymore?

Surveys taken by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press show a steady decline in newspaper readership by the American public, and it’s going to get worse:  The younger generations are the least likely to read a newspaper and don’t pick up the habit as they get older.  There’s a similar decline in the use of newspapers as a source specifically of campaign news.  Political activists, however, still can’t do without their newspaper fix.

Since the newspaper audience is an older audience, and people tend to become more conservative with age, it’s not too surprising that twice as many newspaper readers describe themselves as conservative as compared to liberal.  Specifically, 35 percent say they are conservatives; 18 percent, liberals; and 41 percent, moderates.  Rounding out the newspaper-reader profile, readership consists of more men (45 percent) than women (38 percent), and readership rises with education and family income – no surprises there.

Newspapers as a source of campaign news:  Just as the overall use of newspapers is consistently declining, the use of newspapers as a source of campaign news is consistently declining, too.  After analyzing the Pew data, we think it’s fair to guess that back in 1960 something like 70 percent to 80 percent of the American people used newspapers as a source of campaign news – there was so little competition, after all.  Today that figure is somewhere in the range of 30 percent.  This means that newspapers have lost way more than half of their audience for campaign news.  That’s a tremendous loss of their power as a campaign news filter.  And given that the overwhelming majority of news reporters are liberals, that’s a tremendous loss of power for liberals.  Liberal newspaper reporters are selling horseshoes while the nation is buying automobiles.

As with general newspaper readership, Pew’s 2004 survey shows that things in the campaign news department are only going to get worse in the future.  Here’s the age breakdown on who was using newspapers for campaign news in January 2004:

Americans Who Get Their Campaign News
from Newspapers, by Age Group (%)

18-29     30-49     50+

23%        27%        40%

“The survey shows that young people, in particular, are turning away from traditional media sources for information about the campaign,” Pew says.

But, political activists still use newspapers: The general public may be turned off, but political activists and political news junkies still need to get their newspaper fix while gulping down their caffeine fix.  Pew’s 2000 report finds that “Most people who are active in politics regularly learn about the campaign from newspapers (63 percent).”  Of course, activists are more likely to use every news source, but that 63 percent was greater than the number of activists who regularly used any of the other campaign news sources.

In its January 2004 report, Pew paid special attention to politically engaged Americans.  “While the majority of Americans are at most marginally engaged in the Democratic primary process,” it said, “a small number keep close tabs on campaign news and events.  These people have been following the campaign closely, enjoy keeping up with election politics, and are familiar with all of the election events and facts asked about on the survey.  Overall, they represent roughly 7 percent of the population.”  And among these citizens with “very high campaign engagement,” 59 percent regularly get campaign news from newspapers.  Only cable news scored higher, with 64 percent.  So, even where it’s still popular, the newspaper is losing ground to cable TV news.

Newspapers fare even worse when you factor in population growth: The raw figures showing newspaper circulation losses over the past 10 years are bad enough, but when you also factor in the growth in population, the picture is dismal.  To see just how bad the situation is, we took five liberal flagships from around the nation and got their circulation figures for 1993 and 2003.  Then we got the Census figures for their metropolitan regions from 1990 and 2000.  We determined what their circulation would have been in 2003 if they had just maintained the same penetration of their metropolitan market they enjoyed in 1993.  We compared that with their actual circulation in 2003 to determine what we call their effective loss of circulation penetration in their metropolitan region.  Here’s what we found:

  • * The New York Times had a 5.5 percent decrease in circulation between 1993 and 2003, while its metropolitan market increased in population by 8.4 percent.  On the surface, this suggests that it had an effective loss of circulation penetration during those 10 years of 13.5 percent.  Actually the loss in its metropolitan region was probably double that, because the Times has been transforming itself into a national newspaper and now has nearly half its circulation outside the New York City area.
  • * The Los Angeles Times had a 16.4 percent decrease in circulation between 1993 and 2003, while its metropolitan market increased in population by 12.7 percent.  Its effective loss of circulation penetration during those 10 years was 26.2 percent.
  • * The Washington Post had an 11.9 percent decrease in circulation between 1993 and 2003, while its metropolitan market increased in population by 16.6 percent.  Its effective loss of circulation penetration during those 10 years was 24.4 percent.
  • * The Boston Globe had an 11.1 percent decrease in circulation between 1993 and 2003, while its metropolitan market increased in population by 6.7 percent.  Its effective loss of circulation penetration during those 10 years was 16.7 percent.
  • * And the Atlanta Journal-Constitution had a 15.6 percent decrease in circulation between 1993 and 2003, while its metropolitan market increased in population by 38.9 percent.  Its effective loss of circulation penetration during those 10 years was an astounding 39.2 percent.

One caveat: While these newspapers are bleeding from circulation losses and even bigger population-adjusted losses, these losses in themselves have not diminished the newspapers’ impact on the political and ideological fronts.  This is particularly true of the New York Times and the Associated Press, because they still determine, to a great extent, what is news in America by the articles they publish (and therefore the topics discussed).  Television networks and stations simply have not made a similar investment in thousands of reporters around the nation and the globe, so they rely on the New York Times and its syndication services, plus the wire services (primarily AP), to dig up most of the news stories that get reported.  Talk radio, cable TV, and the Internet have helped by providing a wider range of interpretation of those news stories, but this has only dented the liberal domination of the news media, not eliminated it.   


America’s Right Turn serialization:

To order American's Right Turn from Amazon please click this link.

  1. “Media Monopolies Declare War on Conservatives”
  2. “What Conservatives Can Learn from the West’s First Media Revolution”
  3. “What Conservatives Can Learn from America’s First Media Revolution”
  4. “The Factors That Created a Grassroots Conservative Movement”
  5.  “More Factors That Created a Grassroots Conservative Movement”
  6. “Money in Politics:  Everyone Complains About It, but Every Political Movement Needs It”
  7. “Conservatives in the Wilderness: American Politics in 1955” 
  8. Conservatives in the Wilderness: Restless, but Lacking Leadership
  9. “How William F. Buckley Jr. Gave Birth to the Conservative Movement”
  10. “How Barry Goldwater Gave Political Voice to the New Conservative Movement”
  11. “Why There Was No Mass Libertarian Movement—Lessons for Conservatives”
  12. “1964:  This is What Happens When the Other Side Controls the Mass Media”
  13. “Thanks to Shamelessly Dishonest Liberals, Conservatives Have No Chance in 1964
  14. “How Conservatives Turned a Lemon (1964) Into Lemonade (the Future Successful Movement”
  15. Conservatives Test a New Secret Weapon
  16. “Conservatives Use Their Secret Weapon to Create a Revolution”
  17. “Conservatives Grow Under the Radar, Testing Their New Secret Weapon”
  18. “Why Direct Mail Is So Powerful for Insurgents—Like Conservatives”
  19. “Creating the Religious Right, and Electing Reagan, Using Alternative Media” 
  20. “Phyllis Schlafly Showed Us How to Stop an ‘Inevitable’ Leftist Crusade” 
  21. “Liberals Learn How to Use the Conservatives’ Secret Weapon”
  22. “What Conservatives Can Learn from the Man Who Built the Modern Liberal Movement”
  23. “Morton Blackwell Trains Tomorrow’s Conservative Cadre”
  24. “From FDR to Rush Limbaugh: The Talk Radio Revolution”
  25. “Talk Radio Demolishes Hillarycare, and Provides a New Battleground for the Culture Wars”
  26. “Why Liberals Fail—While Conservatives Succeed—on Talk Radio”
  27. “How the NRA Used Alternative Media to Save the Second Amendment”
  28. “C-SPAN Starts the Revolution Against TV’s Liberal Gatekeepers”
  29. “Fox Replaces CNN as King of Cable, Giving Conservatives a Voice on TV News” 
  30. “Direct Mail: A Giant Step Forward for Political Democracy”
  31. “Why Direct Mail is the Smartest Form of Advertising for Conservative Candidates”
  32. “The 1970s: Healthy Growing Pains in the Emerging Conservative Movement”
  33. “Rush Limbaugh Becomes Talk Radio’s #1 Star; the “Tea Bag” Rebellion Becomes Its First Big Victory”
  34. “Cable TV—With Fox in the Lead—Becomes America’s Primary Source of Campaign News”
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