A Perspective: The Myth of the 'Owned' Newspaper Reader

Traditional publishers and broadcasters aren’t the only faction whose perspective creates an illusion.

Today at Corante’s Symposium on Social Architecture, I’ve heard speakers state as fact that ‘newspaper publishers think they own their readers.‘.

I’ve been working in the newspaper industry since 1978. My family has been publishing a daily newspaper in New England since 1877. I’ve known dozens, maybe hundreds, of newspaper publishers. I’ve never met or heard of one who thinks he owns his readers.

Sure, most, if not all, hold an attitude that ‘we the newspaper staff write it and they the consumers read it‘, so the publishers don’t think that ‘news is a conversation.‘ Yet, no publisher thinks he owns his readers.

My blog compatriot Dorian Benkoil reminds me that traditional broadcasters do think they own their viewers, and I agree. Traditional TV broadcasters’ attitude towards viewers is ‘will the dogs eat the dog food‘ that broadcasters are doling out.

However, I know of no newspaper publisher who thinks he owns his readers. Newspaper circulation has been eroding since the late 1960s, when most of today’s newspaper publishers were still in elementary school. Ever since they began working in the newspaper industry, all of today’s publishers have known is how shaky their circulation is; how they’ve been experienced annual circulation churn of 25 to 60 percent for decades; how they’ve desperately tried to keep or find readers who are at least slightly loyal.

New-media pundits who claim that ‘newspaper publishers think they own their readers.‘ haven’t a clue. They’ve grabbed a meme from the 1950s, an illusive perspective as out-of-date as the publishers’ and broadcasters’ illusion that audiences are fragmenting. Two conflicting illusions.

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