After a year away from New York, we came back for a few days.
I like printed newspapers. I understand that this makes me old, but I am old. For the past 20 years that I lived in Midtown Manhattan, I was able to buy a hard copy of The Financial Times, the FT, in lots of places near my house.
This morning, I went out early to buy my copy of the weekend FT — a great newspaper, by the way. I was a bit surprised to see that my regular newsstand, on 6th Avenue and 55th Street, had exactly 3 newspapers for sale — one copy of Baron’s and two copies of The New York Post. That was it. No FT, no NY Times, no Washington Post, no… nothing.
Lots of M&Ms, Twizzlers, scratch cards, and some NY City Tourist Junk. To call the place a Newsstand is a misnomer. It is a junk stand.
Not to be deterred, I set out, and this is in Midtown Manhattan, in search of a newspaper.
There are lots of places to look — places I used to go all the time. My neighborhood is filled with hotels. I tried them all. They all have gift shops — the Hilton, the Sheraton, the London, the Peninsula, St. Regis, and The Plaza. All of them have gift shops. NOT ONE carries newspapers any longer.
“No one buys them.”
Not to be deterred, I headed over to Rockefeller Center. Five ‘newsstands in Rockefeller Center and two bookstore/magazine stores as well. NOT ONE carries a newspaper any longer.
I would like to point out, parenthetically, that in my tiny English village of Shipton under Wychwood, I can walk about 1/4 to my local shop and get more than a dozen newspapers on any given day, including the FT!
I understand the theory that people now read newspapers online. To me, this is a theory, like Creationism.
According to a recent poll by the Nielsen Company, and they should know, the average person in the US now spends 8 hours a day watching TV (or video online) and 19 minutes a day reading. I am also willing to bet that most of that time is NOT spent reading newspapers online.
TikTok, on the other hand, has 1.8 billion users. The New York Times has 700,000 paid print subscribers, worldwide, and 8.6 million digital subscribers worldwide. Nice but it is a rounding error for TikTok, and this is The New York Times for God’s sake. This is out of a population, just in the US, of 340 million people.
Since 2004, more than 2500 newspapers in the US, most of them local, have closed down. What is going to replace them? Local TikTok? Instagram? Facebook? According to the Pew Research Center, more than 48% of those under the age of 30 get their news from social media. This is a terrifying statistic. A quick survey of ‘news’ and information offered on TikTok will show you that the earth is flat, that no one ever went to the moon, that we are all victims of an endless string of incredibly complicated conspiracies, and that a certain ethnic group (to remain nameless here) actually controls almost all the media for their own nefarious ends.
What happens to a society that is devoid of newspapers? I don’t know but I think we are all going to find out — and I think we got a very strong whiff of what is coming in last week’s CNN ‘Town Hall’.