As these strong and meaningful changes are taking place opinion writers and pundits search for answers that will explain away the audience abandonment across the entire spectrum of traditional news outlets. Huge audience losses are being logged for network television news. Major newspaper and news magazine publications show significant decline in circulation numbers. Talk radio formats for the counter position to conservative talk have failed.
The only bright light on the news horizon seems to be The Fox News Channel...and it is the latest entry into cable news. Today, while celebrating its tenth year on the air, Fox News rightfully boasts it is the Number One cable news network. According to Glenn Garvin, writing for McClatchy Newspapers it has held this ranking...”for the past 58 months with an audience almost as big as its two main competitors combined. It took Fox News just five years to surpass MSNBC, with its powerful corporate backers, and CNN with its 16 year head start.” Garvin goes on to say that Fox News reached the 90 million-subscriber mark faster than any cable channel in history.
Conservatives have continually argued traditional news outlets ranging from print publications to electronic networks are liberal and Democrat leaning. Though this charge is always denied it remains the perception of most conservative thinking people.
When that charge is combined with the political statistics of the country it becomes a powerful mind-set. The United States is almost evenly divided between people with either a liberal or a conservative mentality. If such a large segment of the population views the mainstream media as “being in the enemy camp”, their perception automatically becomes their reality. With the birth of talk radio, online publications, conservative news magazines, the growth of cable television and email, a major exodus from traditional news sources was bound to be the outcome for the segment of the population that felt its position in local or world affairs was being underrepresented.
That grand old lady of newspapers, The New York Times, has seen a drop in actual circulation since 1990. Prior to that year it had claimed almost 2 million readers. By the year 2000 circulation had dropped to 1,500,000. Today the Times can only claim a circulation number of 1,126,000.
The number of daily newspapers in America has also plummeted. From 1,745 in 1980, they have dropped to an estimated 1,457 today. This is a decline of more than 17%. More importantly, readers between the ages of 34 and 64, those who are the most engaged in civil society, are abandoning the daily newspaper. Those who study such issues tell us that more than a century ago when newspapers made their public appearance, the appeal was to the masses... the blue-collar workers. Concerned publishers no longer run today’s publications. Instead huge corporations make the key decisions. Most of those have been geared toward advertisers instead of working America and community concerns.
With the repeal of the FCC “fairness doctrine” in 1987 those of a conservative nature migrated to talk radio. By 2004 more than 17% of the public was tuned in to a growing number of shows. Right-leaning hosts headed up by Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage and Glenn Beck dominated the talk radio airwaves. Rush Limbaugh alone is said to reach an audience of 20 million people. This is a number three times greater than the top 25 daily newspapers combined circulation.
Politically liberal radio has tried to gain an audience with efforts such as Air America Network and personalities such as Al Franken, Jerry Brown and Mario Cuomo. All were less than successful and financially they were failures.
Though all formats for liberal or “progressive” thought and left of center news reporting are in decline, none shows grimmer audience projections than network television news. In the past decade CBS, NBC and ABC television have seen a combined ratings decline of 34 percent and they are down almost 60% from their peak year of 1969-70.
When CNN was born in 1980, it was estimated that 75 percent of all television viewers tuned in for the evening news. But, the birth of this cable news network did not result in a great decline. The majority of network television news loss has taken place in the past 10 years. This correlates directly with the introduction of Fox News Channel, plus the ever-increasing charges of news bias on the part of traditional media. Also, according to a Pew Research Center pole taken in the year 2000, technology and more people going online for information resulted in fewer numbers of this group watching network television news.
This moves the circle around to the beginning. Again as Garvin says, “...millions and millions of committed conservatives believed the other networks were liberal and Democratic-leaning.” He goes on to reflect, “You can argue all day long whether they’re right or wrong. But, the ratings numbers speak for themselves, and speak very loudly.”
All of this adds up to an interesting picture. Mainstream or traditional media outlets continue to decline. Fox News, with its “fair and balanced” slogan and charges of blatant conservatism by the left increases its numbers every year. Talk radio has become the electronic home of conservative thought and e-zines such as American Daily, GOPUSA, The Conservative Voice, Capitol Hill Coffee Shop, ChronWatch, and The USA Sentinel continue to attract new readers. As many are now prone to say, conservatives have found a home and it is with the new media.