How Newspapers Are Wording Their Own ObituariesS

If anyone else is weirded out by newspapers trying to dispassionately report news of their decline, look away now.

The Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) released its figures today. And it's bad. From April to September the average sales of 400 papers slipped 10.6 per cent from last year to 30.4 million. Each paper had a strangely arms-length way of covering its own demise.

"The Los Angeles Times was fourth with daily circulation of 657,467, down 11.1% from a year ago," said the Los Angeles Times, quickly and with little further analysis except a statement to say that this was expected. This was a fairly common tactic.

The Washington Post, meanwhile, says the good news is that websites are up! Except theirs, down "29 percent, to 9.2 million, compared with September of last year, just before the presidential election." Which surely counts as 'but we just had a huge spike' excuse-making.

The justifying and silver-lining seeking continued. See if you can guess where this is from: "At The New York Times, which has repeatedly raised its prices in recent years, weekday circulation fell 7.3 percent, to about 928,000, the first time since the 1980s that it has been under one million. As the third-largest paper, it continued to have by far the largest Sunday circulation, at 1.4 million, down 2.7 percent."

The San Francisco Chronicle, which reported the sharpest decline, 25.8 per cent, opened with this: "The Chronicle said Monday that reshaping the newspaper's business model is paying off financially even though, as anticipated, it has resulted in a sharp decline in circulation."

It's completely understandable. It's just sad to see great papers and great reporters scurrying to cover disastrous news with soothing reportorial language and knowing juxtaposition of sentences. I'd almost prefer 'Holy Crap We're Fucked! Help Us! Buy This Paper!' to be splashed across each front page.