05 September 2003

An endangered species: the evening newspaper

When I was growing up Chicago had four major daily newspapers: the Tribune, the Sun-Times, Chicago's American (after 1969, Chicago Today) and the Daily News. The first two were morning papers, while the last two were afternoon or evening papers. Those taking the train into the city would see their fellow passengers with their heads in the "Trib" or the Sun-Times, while those on the train back to the suburbs would see people poring over the American or the Daily News. Our family read the Daily News more than any of the other papers, while my aunt and uncle in the city tended to read the American.

However, evening newspapers have not fared very well over the decades, as indicated in this report:

Investment bank Morgan Stanley's June 2002 report on the media industry in North America shows morning newspapers have doubled their circulation from 24 million copies in the 1960s to 47 million copies in 2000, while evening papers have crashed from 35 million to only nine million in circulation, in the same period.

Indeed Chicago Today, which was published by the Tribune, closed in 1974, and the Daily News, published by the Sun-Times, folded in 1978. Similar closures (or consolidations with a more prosperous morning paper) have taken place, not only elsewhere in the US, but virtually everywhere in the developed world.

Why do people no longer read evening papers? The above-mentioned report offers two possible reasons:

Television has had a role to play, with evening bulletins eating into circulation. The other big reason is the decline of the manufacturing sector, a development that's considerably altered commuter schedules.

Furthermore, fewer people are commuting from so-called bedroom communities into the urban centres, as more companies move their operations into outlying regions. This means more cars on the roads and fewer people on the trains, which translates into no time to read on the way home.

What of the future? Could the internet spell the demise of newspapers altogether? Most newspapers have their own websites, though not all of their contents are accessible electronically. And some charge a small fee for accessing articles in their archives. However, one of the interesting features of these websites is that they are usually updated much more frequently than the number of print editions would ordinarily enable them to do. Breaking stories appear almost immediately on these sites. This would tend to make the very notion of a morning or evening edition nearly obsolete, as anyone with a computer can find an up-to-the-minute account of the day's news at any time of the day.

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