Why People Still Get Print Newspapers

In Whitewater – like other small places across America – there may still be nearby newspapers, but none of any merit. If one thought only of quality as the measure of survival, then for the Whitewater area the Gazette, Daily Union, and Register would long ago have vanished. (Indeed, I have underestimated the longevity of these publications, as I’ve considered quality reporting as a reason to read them.)

Mark Coddington and Seth Lewis report on a study that uncovers reasons apart from content that entice print readers. In Why Do People Still Get Print Newspapers?, they write:

In a digital era dominated by mobile and social media, why do people still get print newspapers?

new study in the journal New Media & Society — involving interviews with 488 news consumers in Argentina, Finland, Israel, Japan, and the United States, representing one of the largest interview-based studies of its kind — suggests that we have been thinking about this question the wrong way.

In much of communication research (and, we would add, much of the industry conversation about the transformation of news), a lot of emphasis is placed on “media-centric” factors such as content and technology — for example, on how people respond to different types of information, or on how various tools and platforms might influence the experiences people have and the preferences they express about media use. But, as the authors argue based on their extensive set of interviews, a “media-centric” focus is missing the point of how media are actually experienced by people in the day to day — and by recognizing that, by “de-centering” the media from our analysis, those who study journalism and communication can better appreciate exactly how media processes and everyday life are interwoven.

Of the study, Coddington and Lewis write that

with regard to ritualization, the authors find that interviewees have “highly ritualized everyday lives.” This is no real surprise on its own, but it serves as a reminder that people “fold their media reception into these rituals.” As the study makes clear: “people visit coffee shops and read newspapers they encounter there as part of the experience — but they do not go to coffee shops primarily to do this. Similarly, young interviewees visit their parents as part of family routines and read the newspaper they encounter in their households — but do not visit their parents primarily to get the news.” Notably, however, it was older interviewees who were more likely to have “sedimented” in their everyday rituals certain routinized ways of feeling, touching, and reading newspapers, which indicates how the interplay of everyday ritual and media practice may become embedded over time.

Generations and habits change, of course, so print publishing that depends on readers’ “highly ritualized everyday lives” cannot expect to carry on forever.

For a print publication that cares only about an existing readership, decline might yet be slow. For a print publication – or any publication, really – that seeks new readers (particularly newcomers to a community) – “highly ritualized” habits will be of much less value.

For attracting new readers, it doesn’t matter what existing readers want or consider good – it matters what new readers and newcomers want and consider good.

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