U.S Newspaper circulation suffered its biggest drop in over fifteen years as reported today by the Audit Bureau of Circulations. The annual report indicates an average weekday drop in circulation of 8.7% in the six months ending March 31st.  Sunday circulation saw a fall of 6.5%.

The Chicago Sun-Times said that national journals showed large weekday losses, with the San Diego Union-Tribune falling 22.7 percent, the Washington Post declining 13.1 percent, and USA Today losing 13.6 percent. The Chicago Tribune was down 9.8 percent to 452,145 weekdays and down 7.5 percent to 858,256 Sundays. The Wall Street Journal was the only one of the top 25 papers to gain in circulation — 0.5 percent.

My adopted home town paper and sometimes employer, the Charlotte Observer, trumpeted their own decline today stating, in Charlotte, the Observer shed 21,000 daily readers and lost 18,400 on Sundays, a decline of 11 percent and 8 percent, respectively. Additionally they noted double-digit percentage declines at some other major Carolina dailies, led by a 17 percent daily plunge at the News & Record in Greensboro.

As evidenced by your very reading this piece online, more and more people are getting their news, opinion and entertainment content from non-print sources online and otherwise. Much has been written about this trend over the last decade and the newspaper as we once knew it has been declared dead more times than any nine-lived cat ever.

The evolution and convergence of media is certainly nothing new and is being embraced in many circles, particularly with younger readers and technology adapters who use digital forms of media to inform and entertain themselves.

Credibility and journalistic integrity in particular I think bear mindfulness and warning as we turn increasingly online for our daily “news”  fix.

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the overwhelming majority of print journals establish and maintain journalistic standards and integrity in their reporting. Fact checking, source verification and access for rebuttal and response are cornerstone elements and sacred for any journal worth the stock it’s printed on.

Editorial and News functions remain separated by mostly effective Chinese Walls that are established to prevent inherent conflicts that exist between the business — and make no mistake about it, a newspaper is a business — of running the paper and the editorial position of the institution. While most if not all of the mainstream print media has  online beachheads that carry on these standards, many online publishers and bloggers do not.

The barrier for entry to online information dissemination is access to a P.C. (any library can provide this) and a modicum of spare time.

Consumers of political perspective and news who turn to the internet, more specifically the blogosphere, for their sustenance have no assurance that anything they read is factually accurate, verifiable or even from an identifiable or credible source.

David Wallace, author of One Nation Under Blog (Brown Books Publishing Group), written by a U.S. Department of Homeland Security Advisory Council member and 3 term former mayor of Sugar Land, Texas, builds a solid argument for injecting a code of conduct and ethical responsibility into the exploding forum of information exchange and influence found online in the blog-o-sphere.

Recognizing that unfettered conversational speech provides the very element that makes blogging unique and a dynamic forum for political dialogue, Wallace acknowledges that this can be the underlying Achilles heel of the political blog if not held to more universal standards.  Personal responsibility, fact verification, blog monitoring for unacceptable content, refusing to allow for harassing, stalking or threatening of others, copyright infringement, and privacy violation all make it into Wallace’s common sense code.

As newspaper circulation continues to plummet, the question we should be asking ourselves is not how will we replace our beloved papers, but how should we be more informed consumers of what replaces them.

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Michael J. Solender

Michael J. Solender

Michael J. Solender is a recent corporate refugee whose opinion and satire has been featured in The Richmond Times Dispatch, The Winston-Salem Journal, and Richmond Style Weekly. He writes a weekly Neighborhoods column for The Charlotte Observer and is the City Life Editor for Charlotte ViewPoint. His micro-fiction has been featured online at Bull Men’s Fiction, Calliope Nerve, Danse Macabre, Dogzplot, Gloom Cupboard, Full of Crow, Pangur Ban Party and others.

You can find more of his work at his website and also at his blog.