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Physical Newspapers Still in Demand

Dallas Steffen | Staff Writer | 3/23/2011

The public does not support newspapers as it once did.  Over the last decade, most surveys report a change in the public’s preferences of media from traditional media, such as newspapers and radio, to new media such as Internet news articles and social media.  In 2008, The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, a non-partisan group that researches public policy, reported that the Internet jumped ahead of newspapers in use.

Most newspaper subscription numbers are declining because of this change.  The New York Times reported last April that its circulation dropped 9 percent.  In September, Arthur Sulzberger, the publisher of the major newspaper, announced at a London press conference that the newspaper will no longer be printed in the future.
Even the opinion of local newspapers, a medium seen by many as an important and sometimes the only source of local content, is declining in value.
The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press nationally sampled 1,000 people and asked if losing their local newspaper would hurt civic life and if they would miss the newspaper if it were no longer printed.  Only 43 percent of those surveyed believe it would hurt civic life of their communities, and only a third said they would miss the local newspaper.
Students and faculty members of Bemidji State, however, still demand physical newspapers.  In a random survey consisting of 74 students and faculty, 46 preferred a traditional newspaper compared to 10 who chose electronic newspapers as their only preference.  The other 18 had no preference.
The results are similar across the country.  Deloitte, a company that provides assistance and represents its clients, conducted a nationwide survey that concluded 61 percent of people prefer reading newspapers in their traditional form compared to an electronic version, similar to the results of the BSU campus survey of 62 percent.
Newspapers still have a major role in sharing information with the public.  The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism studied how the city of Baltimore’s news information was obtained.  The results show that during the week the city was observed, 95 percent of information came from traditional media and only 5 percent coming from new media formats.  Nearly 50 percent of all new information came from the five local newspapers.
The largest newspaper, The Baltimore Sun, produced most of the new information despite producing only 23,668 news articles, over a third less than it produced in 1991, when the Internet was rarely used to obtain news information.
Of the 53 news outlets, 12 new media outlets did not produce any local information, and 83 percent of the information from new media was repetitive with no information.
However, at BSU, despite the importance of newspapers, only 97 students and faculty have a subscription to the New York Times, and the Barnes and Noble Bookstore is not selling any subscriptions to the Bemidji Pioneer this semester.
One possible reason for the low number of subscriptions is environmental awareness. Erika Bailey-Johnson, the BSU Sustainability Coordinator, said she has received a number of concerns from students.
“Since I’ve started this position, I’ve had various people tell me about how much waste is being produced by the bookstore, which is mostly newspapers,” said Bailey-Johnson.  “I went to the loading dock and found big bundles of newspapers that were unopened.  I found that students are supposed to pick up and read them for certain classes.”
Bailey-Johnson tried to reach a middle ground with the BSU Bookstore in an attempt to reduce the number of unused New York Times, but discovered a dilemma.
“It’s kind of hard because everyone [who pays for a subscription] must have the opportunity to get the newspaper if they want one,” said Bailey-Johnson. “I think it comes down to academic freedom and that the faculty can teach in a way to give their students an experience with newspaper.  I can understand because I’m like that.  I like the newspaper more than reading the news on a computer.”
She stopped inquiring about removing the newspapers, but she would like to see changes. “I would still love to see less waste,” said Bailey-Johnson. “Maybe they could get one paper a week rather than one every day.  I would love to see if a compromise could be made.  If it’s not being used, why are we still requesting it?”
As for electronic newspapers viewed on a computer tablet such as a Nook or Kindle, Bailey-Johnson said she was doubtful whether it is more environmentally friendly compared to traditional print. “If you compare the two, newspapers take in resources and I would think Kindles take up more resources than traditional print.”
While there have been no studies in the United States about the environmental effects of physical newspapers compared to electronic newspapers and websites, the research was done in Europe by the KTH Center for Sustainable Communications, a Sweden-based company that determines the environmental sustainability of certain businesses and even websites.
The center found that if the time taken to read a newspaper equals 30 minutes, the reader releases the same amount of carbon as he or she would reading an electronic newspaper.
In a recent BSU study, 32 percent of those surveyed said they read their newspaper in 30 minutes or longer, while 68 percent said they take under 30 minutes.
The difference of carbon released as indicated in the study released by the KTH Center for Sustainable Communications, however, is not as significant when compared to the environmental impact of using websites to read the news.
A research article published in 2001 by The Journal of Industrial Ecology found that reading online news articles for 25 minutes is environmentally equivalent to watching television for one and a half hours and the production of one newspaper.
Traditional newspapers are a staple to the public today.  Without this medium, arguably both the environment and society would be impacted negatively.
Newspapers are not dead.