Newspapers Declining but Not Reading
I wish it had been an April Fool’s joke, but this month marks the first time in nearly two centuries there will not be an issue of the Western Recorder. The newspaper was a weekly affiliated with the Kentucky Baptist Convention (KBC). I began writing for it regularly after my wife and I moved to Louisville in 1994 so she could attend Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Since the paper operated with a modest-sized staff, it needed a freelancer with journalistic experience. And I needed some steady work—something that had been seriously lacking during the transition to our new home.
When I started writing for the WR, circulation was around 43,000. By the time my work started to decline 20 years later, it was a bi-weekly. By then, subscriber numbers had dwindled to about 14,000.
Two years ago, the newspaper disappeared, replaced by a monthly magazine. But last year’s loss of advertising and spotty mail delivery during the pandemic proved to be too much. The board voted to cease publishing after the March issue.
Even though I hadn’t written anything for the paper for about six years, I remained a loyal reader to the end. I am Facebook friends with a former news editor; we recently commiserated on the fate of the publication.
This story has been repeated in many places and with many newspapers and publications the past two decades.
Technological changes have produced a whipsawing effect on print. Whether it’s newspapers, a magazine, or a book, many people no longer care to pick up a physical one when they can read so much material online or on their phones.
It’s been hard for everyone involved in traditional media, with the infrastructure of an entire industry on life support.
Yet, even with the WR’s disappearance, the KBC continues to disseminate information via Kentucky Today, a website that sprang up prior to the newspaper’s demise.
Such developments remind us that it’s too easy to lament the diminished profile of publications and moan, “Things aren’t like they used to be.”
After all, bookstores are much fewer and smaller in number. The Christian Booksellers Association slid into oblivion a couple years ago, along with the nation’s two largest Christian retail chains.
Despite these developments, my work isn’t going away. In recent years it has increased instead of declined.
Granted, it has changed to more book ghosting and editing projects than articles. However, because modern technology makes it possible for almost anyone to write a book, many people are doing just that. Many need a good editor.
Rising from the Grave
I still write periodically for several publications, although in modern fashion many are online-only creations.
Even those whose print numbers have diminished greatly have seen exponential increases in high-tech readership.
Once, the news editor of a national magazine emailed me to tell me my story had been squeezed out by space restrictions. When he said I would get paid the same amount, I commented that probably as many would see it online. He wrote back to agree: their circulation was 140,000, but their web audience measured two million.
I guess if there’s one encouraging note from all this, it’s while newspapers may be going the way of the dinosaur, reading isn’t. There are more people reading than ever before. It’s just in different forms.