(Prologue: Don’t get your hopes up about the title. Keep reading.)
When I returned home from my midday walk at a local park on New Year’s Day 2008, something was conspicuously absent from my driveway: The Cincinnati Post. The day before, the venerable flagship newspaper of the E.W. Scripps Company, shut down operations after 126 years.
Cincinnati has lost its status as a two-newspaper town. As is the case with many other cities, we only have a morning newspaper, Gannett‘s Cincinnati Enquirer. Cranky old men have lost a place to send their nonsensical letters to the editor, and public relations people have lost a source where thay can promote their stories.
My family subscribed since we moved to Cincinnati in 1984. It got me through many a boring afternoon when I was between jobs. The Post provided a more moderate stance than the Enquirer. We have also subscribed to that since 1984. There were features, reporters and columnists that added to the variety of information we received. It also had a very good comics section with Dilbert, Doonesbury, Pearls Before Swine, and Get Fuzzy.
I’m amazed that the Post lasted this long. Many other similar-sized markets lost their last afternoon paper years ago. My guess is that the Post survived because their parent company’s national headquarters is here.
I like to study the history of modern media, so of course I’ll pick this apart. In my estimation, four factors contributed to the decline of the afternoon paper. Sorry, fellow bloggers, the Web is not one of them. This epitaph was written long before the average Joe knew the Internet existed.
Factor 1: Natural selection. In its infancy, many companies clamored to get in the print journalism game. As a result, too many papers were published. Cincinnati had five afternoon papers at the turn of the century. Too many voices were trying to be heard, so the weaker ones either folded or were bought out by more profitable concerns.
Factor 2: Radio. The afternoon paper filled in the news void that occurred after the morning papers’ final editions went to press. Enter radio in the 1920s. One of the programming staples of early radio was frequent news updates. At home or work, people could listen to the radio all day and stay informed for free. Chances were the afternoon papers wouldn’t have late-breaking news and they certainly couldn’t provide continuous updates. When radio became portable, people could get their news anytime, anywhere. Transistor and car radios fueled that fire.
Factor 3: Television. The advents of the 6:00 pm local and 6:30 pm network newscasts gave people one more reason to shun an afternoon paper. How cool was it for the Ward Cleavers of the world to come home and eat dinner while watching the news on TV instead of retiring to the den with the afternoon paper?
Factor 4: Changing lifestyles. Americans got busier, meaning less time for reading the afternoon paper. In the 1970s, women entered the workforce in a big way. In the 1980s, the 9-5 workday gave way to the 8-6 workday, and parents started to become obsessive about getting their kids involved in organized afterschool activities (I’ll plead guilty to three counts of that!).
The Web and mobile devices will be the devices that could eventually kill the morning paper. Which major city will be the first to have no newspaper? Anybody want to start a pool?
Epilogue: In the aftermath, The Enquirer only offered fulltime employment to one Post employee. A few others were offered freelance assignments. They picked up only four of the Post’s comic strips (Dilbert, Classic Peanuts, Pearls Before Swine, and Get Fuzzy…not Doonesbury) while they dropped four (Agnes, Tina’s Groove, Flo and Friends, and BC) for a net gain of zero. They picked up some new columnists, but I don’t believe any of them were in the Post. Scripps is throwing more of their efforts into interactive media sites. To that end, they are operating a Northern Kentucky news web site. It is KYPost.com, and it will help fill the void left by the Post. Only one Post employee was retained to work there, based on reports I read. Scripps’ ABC TV affiliate, WCPO-Channel 9, will provide content for the site. I’m not sure why they don’t host the content on their own site.
Is E.W. Scripps turning in his grave?