The Evening Papers?

It was business page news last week that George Stephanopoulos is to become the “chief anchor” at ABC News, meaning he will lead the network’s coverage whenever there is breaking news. Stephanopoulos isn’t replacing Diane Sawyer as anchor of ABC’s evening news broadcast when she steps down in August.  Her replacement is David Muir. Instead, Stephanopoulos will continue to co-host ABC’s morning show, where the bigger audience and  far greater advertising profits are to be found, as well as This Week, its Sunday morning talk show.

In other words, the evening television network news broadcast is being demoted, half a century after CBS famously increased it to thirty minutes from fifteen in 1963.  (NBC followed a week later.)

The development reminds me of a change I have noticed in my own habits. I have begun reading the morning papers in the evening. That is, I have joined the time-shifting world.

I have three papers delivered to my home every morning, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times. I glance at their front and editorial pages for things that might affect me directly during the day and then put the papers themselves aside to read in the evening. For the next fifteen minutes I turn my attention to the Web.

I’m not a market participant so I spend relatively little time with the Bloomberg and Reuters sites, even though in each case their total news-gathering resources equal or exceed those of the newspapers. Most evenings I return to the print papers, for something less than half an hour for all three.  I haven’t watched an evening news program in many years.

Digital enthusiasts, of whom there are many, expect all this – newspapers, television  news – to disappear in a few years. I doubt it.  People seem to be watching as much television as ever – something like an average of five hours/day, including half an hour a day of time-shifted programming, according to Nielsen, compared to spending a little less than an hour a day online. In most cases, the electronic hearth still dominates the home.

This has everything to do with the advent of cable and satellite television, of course:  Fox News for the older generation, Comedy Central for the youthful: the choice of Stephen Colbert to replace David Letterman on the CBS Late Show underscores the continuing popularity of things that large numbers of people do together. And if you don’t stay up, you can always see the best parts the next day on YouTube.

Newspapers belong to this category of things people have in common.  Reading is not a communal act, as viewing tends to be.  But people read newspapers secure in the knowledge that they are joining networks shared by other readers. For the same reason they listen to radio news and talk shows for the same reason, daytime shows that are re-broadcast for different reasons in the evenings. Metropolitan dailies fit in here somewhere. I suspect the crucial aspects will turn out to be price.

Among print media, time-shifting makes for brutal competition. I can usually get through the bloated Sunday NYTimes in fifteen minutes; it’s the weekend sections of the FT and the WSJ that slow me down, in combination with The Economist, Science, and Bloomberg BusinessWeek (this is  the one that I read first).

It is all part of what historian Daniel T. Rodgers, of Princeton University, calls the Age of Fracture. New digital media will emerge – Quartz and The Browser are my two favorites of these so-called “news brands.”  They’ll join newspapers, magazines radio, tv, books, and film. The familiar battles between readers’ interests and those of advertisers will continue as before.

Meanwhile, bon summer to all!

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