Getting Over Newspapers

In 2007 the circulation of the Newark Star-Ledger was reported to be 599,628 ranking it 16th among newspapers in the United States.    Two years later the rank remained 16th but circulation was down to 407,129.  In 2012 it was 311,904 weekday (including 127,430 digital editions they now tell us).  The latest data has daily circulation at 285,249 of which 167,600 is print, a figure that found its way into a story in today’s paper that announced the Star Ledger was laying off over 300 people.

In a state with a population of 9 million those 167,600 holdouts, after eliminating coupon-clippers, followers of local sports, and those who are obliged to subscribe (libraries, government offices, old people) include very few who depend primarily on the Ledger for their news and that’s a good thing as these excepts from Alain de Botton’s The News: A User’s Manual points up:

[The news] fails to disclose that it does not merely report on the world, but is instead constantly at work crafting a new planet in our minds in line with its own often highly distinctive priorities. page 11

Cocooned in classrooms for only our first eighteen years or so, we effectively spend the rest of our lives under the tutelage of news entities which wield infinitely greater influence over us than any academic institution can . page 12

It is hard to give up on the habit first established in our earliest years, as we sat cross-legged during school assembly, of listening politely to figures of authority while they tell us about things they proclaim to be essential. page 15

the habit of randomly dipping readers into a brief moment in a lengthy narrative, then rapidly pulling them out again, while failing to provide any explanation of the wider context in which events have been unfolding, is precisely what occurs in the telling of many of the most important stories that run through our societies, whether an election, a budget negotiation, a foreign policy initiative or a change to the state benefit system.  No wonder we get bored. page 23

Far from being incidental features of democracies, news organizations are their guarantors.  And yet the news as it exists is woefully short on the work of coordination, distillation and curation.  page 30

It would be easy to suppose that the real enemy of democratic politics must be the active censorship of news – and therefore that the freedom to say or publish anything would be the natural ally of civilization.  But the modern world is teaching us that there are dynamics far more insidious and cynical still than censorship in draining people of political will; these involve confusing, boring and distracting the majority away from politics by presenting events in such a disorganized, fractured and intermittent way that a majority of the audience is unable to hold on to the thread of the most important issues for any length of time.  pages 31-2

We are therefore left to form impressions of our communities in indirect ways, in our imaginations rather than in actuality page 35

In its stoking of our fears, the news cruelly exploits our weak hold on a sense of perspective. page 49

“Peasants are less idiotic than three-quarters of the middle classes of France, who are always getting themselves into a frenzy over something they’ve read in the papers and spinning like weather vanes according to whatever one paper or another is saying.”  Gustave Flaubert quoted on page 68

The Star-Ledger and network newscasts had been my primary source of ‘news’ for over 30 years until about five years ago when I started going to freeholder meetings and reading public plan actuarial reports and found that I had been distracted into complacency all those years.  Without the imprimatur of importance that these media outlets put on their version of the news (i.e. if it’s not in the paper it can’t be important) maybe I would have woken up sooner.

3 responses to this post.

  1. In this “In 2007 the circulation of the Newark Star-Ledger was reported to be 599,628 ranking it 16th among newspapers in the United States. As of 9/30/99 the rank remained 16th but circulation was down to 407,129”

    Did you mean 1999 or was that a typo?


  2. […] City of Newark Delaware Headlines […]


  3. Funny you mention coupon clipping – that was the only reason I would buy the Ledger on Sunday for my wife (before we moved across the Delaware, that is).

    I still enjoy reading printed publications, including the Wall Street Journal and Philadelphia Inquirer. But as you say, the focus of “Journo-lists” these days is to march to the beat of some talking points put out by a national or regional source (typically a self-serving politician, hedge fund or lobbyist). Stories are picked up by AP or Reuters and then, according to the agenda of the paper, given real estate in the paper.

    There seems to be very little local reporting anymore, and even fewer people that can be bothered to pay attention to what the County Freeloaders (i mean Freeholders) are doing other than the PSTs with a vested interest (i.e. “vested” pension and health care for life promises). This is, of course, exactly why the Northeastern states are where they are.

    It is a reflection of the populace, though, not the fault of the papers. True, I stopped patronizing the Ledger due to its bias. However, I doubt its adherence to the Jeffersonian ideal of a free press — as the guardian of the peoples rights — would have stemmed the hemorrhaging of readers who are simply apathetic and willing to accept NJ’s level of corruption and union-politician duplicity.


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