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Poll Shows Print Newspaper Readership on the Decline

But more adults 50-plus prefer papers over Internet and radio as their primary news source

An era in which Americans read a daily newspaper with their morning coffee, or on the subway on their way to work, is fading. Fewer than three in 10 adults say they read a print newspaper every day, according to a new AARP Bulletin poll on newspaper readership.

Not surprisingly, adults age 50 and older (71 percent) are more likely than their younger counterparts to read a print newspaper. But only 29 percent of all adults age 18 and older pick up a newspaper daily, and 35 percent don’t read a print paper at all, the survey of 1,040 people found.

Daily metropolitan newspapers have been losing circulation for years as increasing numbers of people turn to more immediate sources for their news, such as television and radio, and, more recently, the Internet. More than one-third (34 percent) of people ages 18 to 49 get their news fix online, compared with 16 percent of those age 50 and older.

Among all ages, however, getting the day’s news from television was the clear preference: 52 percent of people ages 18 to 49 and 69 percent of those 50-plus chose TV news as their primary source. Radio was the preferred choice for 22 percent of those age 50-plus and for 20 percent of people younger than 50.

Hal Hershman, 49, has a local newspaper delivered daily to his home. But he says he rarely gets to read it because his wife takes the paper to work with her in the morning. He depends on his car radio for up-to-date news and information.

“I’m frequently in the car going from client to client, so the radio is my primary news source,” says Hershman, a certified public accountant in Richboro, Pa. “I read the newspaper on weekends.”

Like Hershman, 21 percent of people under age 50, and 12 percent of people 50-plus, read a print paper on the weekend only. But daily readership among older people was double (42 percent) that of younger folks (20 percent).

Nearly half of those polled (46 percent) say they read print newspapers as often as they did five years ago; 32 percent say they read newspapers less.

If newspapers weren’t available in print anymore, most people surveyed (80 percent) said they wouldn’t be willing to pay to read a newspaper online.

The decline of the newspaper industry has accelerated in recent years. Within the last year alone, major metropolitan newspapers, including the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Denver’s Rocky Mountain News have folded their print editions under the strain of plummeting readership, a decline in advertising and the worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression. Others, including the Chicago Sun-Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News, have filed for bankruptcy protection.

Carole Fleck is a senior editor at the AARP Bulletin.

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