Have Newspapers Reached Their Deadline?

generic online newspaper newspapers CBS/iStockphoto

There was a time when the only way to find out what was happening was to buy a newspaper, but these days there are plenty of ways to get your news.

Lynne Taylor doesn't go any further than her couch to catch up on current events. She gets some news from radio and TV, but when she wants to read, it's all online.

"I'm checking to see what's going on in the world now and online makes me feel like I've got a real 'now' as opposed to paper 'now,' [which] is yesterday," Taylor, a Ph.D. student, told Sunday Morning correspondent Rita Braver.

In a way, Taylor is every editor's nightmare. It's in large part because of younger people like her that newspapers are in turmoil today. Papers across the country have been or may be sold, with workers laid off as well. Major advertising revenue for many papers is down, too, and classified ads are increasingly being placed on Internet sites.

In fact, newspaper circulation in the United States has been falling for two decades, from a high of 63 million in 1984 to 53 million or less today.

Editor and publisher of the Chattanooga Times Free Press Tom Griscom is fighting to keep the Tennessee paper solvent and relevant with new focus on local news. The paper is a combination of two newspapers which merged nine years ago because of declining readership.

"We've got a total of 40 reporters that cover sports, lifestyle and of course the news side," he said. "We're telling them that story about Medicare and children and what it's doing to children here, rather than the fact that President Bush sat down and made a, you know, the latest announcement."

And like most papers now, the Chattanooga Times Free Press is not just about what's in print. In fact, at the top of the paper there is an ad for the paper's Web site.

"Because that's the deal," Griscom said, "if you want to follow us throughout the day, go to the Web site 'cause we're gonna be posting breaking news."

In fact, Braver was there on a big news day; Chattanooga had just lost out on a new Toyota plant. She followed reporter Mike Pare as he headed out to cover the latest developments. He said he would file a couple of stories on the plant that day.

Those Internet stories will come in addition to the longer piece Pare will file for the next morning's paper.

Everyone at the Times Free Press is well aware of predictions that printed papers are dead or dying. Rising paper prices have led some papers, like the Wall Street Journal, to shrink (literally). In addition, although e-readers now are just for books, companies like Plastic Logic in England are developing small wireless devices, called E-paper, which will mean we won't ever have to carry real paper around to read the news. But Griscom's not ready to give in.
  • Caitlin Johnson

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