Anyone who has followed the print journalism industry over the past decade has witnessed its unmistakable decline.
Metro papers in particular have been hard hit as technology has revolutionized not only information distribution, but advertising, as well. The collapse of classified advertising coupled with the dramatic increase in online readership has resulted in the newspaper industry deteriorating precipitously in recent years.
Consider the Philadelphia Inquirer: 25 years ago it had 700 employees, dispatched journalists around the globe regularly to file stories and boasted daily circulation of more than 500,000.
Today, the paper fields barely 200 employees, has pulled back its coverage dramatically and seen daily circulation shrunk to a little more than 160,000.
“The Inquirer used to send reporters and photographers to South America and Africa,” said photojournalist Will Steacy, whose father was an editor at the publication and who has closely followed the paper’s decline since 2009. “They once sent a guy off to study the fate of the black rhino for six months. Now no story gets done that involves much more than a half-hour drive from the city. Otherwise it is mostly wire stories.”
As the British newspaper The Guardian notes, the Inquirer once had a reputation for both holding local government to account as well as breaking big foreign stories.
“ … it was the Inquirer that uncovered, for example, the full truth behind the OPEC oil blockade of 1973 that was causing panic in Philadelphia and beyond, by dispatching its reporters to examine the shipping lists of Lloyd’s of London and to interrogate dock workers in Rotterdam and Genoa,” according to The Guardian.
Today, in what is perhaps a sad reflection on both the industry and those that it serves, the Inquirer, at least based on its website traffic, appears beholden to lowest-common-denominator stories.
“The stories that receive the most clicks on philly.com,” Steacy suggests “are weather stories, celebrity stories, sex stories. I guess best of all is a celebrity sex story with a good weather angle… ”
The last bit fits all too well with musician Paul Weller’s wonderfully crafted line: “The public wants what the public gets.”