Monday, February 14, 2005


What's happening to circulation?

We're not reading as much hard news it seems. Well at least not in hardcopy form. Crikey reports that Newspaper circulation figures have slumped across Australia, with the only exceptions to the trend being a small increase in the Herald Sun, and an offer driven rise in the Australian. For the rest it seems its all downhill.

This extends even to the Business magazies. The Bulletin for example is tanking, with an 11.1% loss in circulation, a drop which coincides with the appointment of bile jockey Tim Blair to assistant News Editor.

Crikey does not speculate as to the reasons for the decline. I'm sure the internet, and 24 hour cable news has got something to do with it, maybe the broadsheets are struggling because their demographic is more likely to be using the Internet, and using it as their news source. I think however, there's something different going on. People are just getting overwhelmed with news and information, and they're switching off.

The always superb Shaun Carney, in a recent article in The Age writes about a new phenomenon uncovered by John Howard. Howard apparently has discovered that some things are just too complicated for voters to care about. Thus, suggests Carney, the government can dodge criticisms that once would have required sackings, because the layers of bureaucracy, obscure the connections between the transgression and the government to such an extent that its all just too hard to follow.

In the past it would have been the shame that forced resignations, but shame is something that doesn't seem to matter too much anymore. There's very little falling on swords these days, instead the approach is to brazen it out and fight it all the way to the High court.

This IMHO goes someway to explaining the phenomenon of the circulation loss. People are just getting tired of reading stories about complex matters, when they know that investing the time in trying to understand the matter will yield nothing. If it's a corporate scandal, they know the high priced lawyers and spin doctors will be hitting back hard, if its the government they know that it'll swamp the story with complexity, if its about business or investment they know that by the time they read it in the newspaper or magazine its old news and not worth anything.

I'm sorry to say I foresee the only way forward for these newspapers will to become more and more partisan. Follow the lead of the apalling Fox, and take strong sides in the partisan political debates, readers don't want to invest the time in deciding for themselves. They need the decisions already made for them.

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