July 1997

Navigation Key
o [*] - [] *


Online Newspapers as Familiar Artifacts in New Settings

by Sue Mings

Thomas Jefferson once proclaimed: "[Were] it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter" (Bogart, 1989, p. 1; citing Thomas Jefferson's letter to Colonel Edward Carrington, 1/16/1787). The opinion of a founding father notwithstanding, print newspapers, "arguably the archetype" and "prototype" of mass media (McQuail, 1994, p. 267; citing Tunstall, 1977, p. 23), have been slipping from their prominent place in the American home and on the American scene. In the past 25 to 50 years, the American public's newspaper-reading has dramatically declined. Bogart (1989) charts a years-long, steady downward curve of readership in terms of reader frequency (how often consumers read newspapers), multi-paper readers (how many consumers read more than one paper), and household penetration (the proportion of daily newspaper circulation to number of households) (p. 15).

Perhaps related to declining readership, and compounding newspapers' problems, have been the rising costs of producing and distributing a paper (Garneau, 1994, p. 26; citing Roger Fidler). The price of newsprint has tripled in the past 25 years (Bogart, 1989, p. 28), as newspaper readership has taken its dive. Distribution of newsprint papers has become increasingly complex and expensive. [] Garcia discusses a variety of issues facing how online publications deliver the news.

In addition, newspaper advertisers, a large source of newspaper revenue, have been pulling their business from papers to invest in advertising strategies with more focused and/or total penetration possibilities, like direct mail or distributing to shoppers (Bogart, 1989). Kurtz (1993) notes a decrease in newspaper advertising revenue in the early 1990s. Underwood (1992) also identifies the loss of advertising business as a current problem for the newspaper industry. Glaberson (1993), also explaining a loss of advertising revenue in the 1990s, ascribes much of the reason to "the growth of new advertising vehicles like cable [TV] and direct mail" (p. D10). Dalglish (1992) identifies "competition from other ... advertising media" (p. 34) as a significant problem for daily papers in the 1990s. --

A Look Ahead

The pilot study reported here attempts to lay the groundwork for an in-depth study of online newspaper audience activity. The initial examination of pilot study videotape data gives some indication of how online newspaper viewers spend their time online, and of comparisons and contrasts that can be drawn between the activities of reading a traditional newspaper's online site versus a personalized online newspaper. Ongoing and future research extends this examination of the online newspaper audience, in an effort contribute to the industry's optimizing the new medium.


Sue Mings ( is a Ph.D. Candidate specializing in Computer-Mediated Communication at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York.

Copyright © 1997 by Sue Mings. All Rights Reserved.

Contents Archive Sponsors Studies Contact