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Newspaper Readership Decline Factors Essay

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Introduction

The mass media play a critical role in disseminating information to the public. Forms of media such as radio, television, and print newspapers agencies have continued to enjoy massive goodwill as well as the support of progressive governments. The nature of support that the media systems receive from the public is evident in their growth over the past decades.

Nevertheless, the advent of internet technology has altered dissemination of information significantly. Print newspapers, in particular, have witnessed declining readership statistics across the world. The variation in the newspaper readership varies from one country to another and among different societies. For example, readership culture in Europe is higher than the readership culture in the United States.

Moreover, readership culture in developing countries is lower than that in developed countries. This means that readership of newspaper is dependent on cultural and social settings of the population. The media systems across the world have raised concerns over the underlying factors behind the decline in newspaper readership.

An analysis by Elvestad and Blekesaune (2008) on newspaper readership trends in Europe reveals that individual differences such as gender, age, household income, and education level are some of the major factors that cause the discrepancies, which are apparent in the patterns of newspaper readership.

Basing on the apparent trends of newspaper readership, the media systems predict that the future of newspapers seems untenable because of the increasing decline in newspaper readership. Hence, it is imperative for the media systems to establish factors that cause a decline in newspaper readership trends and put appropriate remedial measures to prevent the collapse of the print media industry.

The advent of information technology is a significant factor that has contributed to the decline in readership of print newspapers because people prefer searching for appropriate information from online sources than searching in the newspapers.

To ascertain what causes newspaper readership to decline, this study seeks to explore factors that could be causing the decline in readership of print newspapers. Finding out the cause of the decline could be a key pointer to the strategies to revive a strong readership culture in the United States and consequently across the world. Therefore, to achieve this goal, the purpose of the study is to examine the influence of age, gender, and education level on the newspaper readership patterns.

Literature Review

Gender

Newspaper readership is on the decline across the world. The decline in the trend of newspaper readership has greatly alarmed media systems to establish factors that have contributed to its decline. The establishment of factors that cause a decline in newspaper readership is essential because the declining trends call for a shift of attention from measures to revive a strong readership culture to the enhancement of understanding of the causal factors.

Several factors have been identified by past studies as among the factors that influence newspaper readership. For instance, Elvestad and Blekesaune (2008) note that gender dictates the readership culture of an individual as men appear to be frequent readers when compared to women. The study employed a comparative study by examining trends of newspaper readership in 23 countries.

The study conducted to analyze how both national and individual variations influence the pattern of newspaper readership within a population revealed that gender is one of the major factors that influence newspaper readership. The study by Elvestad and Blekesaune (2008) sought to find out the average time each participant sets aside on a normal weekday to read a newspaper.

In responding to the question, the respondents, adults from 23 different European countries, were expected to respond to the question by giving the specific amount of time they spent reading a newspaper. The results of the study showed that men spent more time with newspapers. Thus, the study concluded that men are frequent readers of newspapers than women. This supports the assertion that that gender influences news readership among the population.

Educational Level

In a different study, Chan and Goldthorpe (2007) sought to establish a link between social status and newspaper readership. Since the education level defines the social status of a person in society, it determines newspaper readership among the population. The study assumed that educational attainment is a parameter that enhances newspaper readership because higher levels of education increase the information processing capacity of individuals (Chan & Goldthorpe, 2007).

In other words, education level increases the demand for information among the population. This means that individuals with higher education levels demand more information than those with lower education levels. The study targeted adults in contemporary British society with both males and females participating in the study.

The general assumption made by the study was that individuals with higher information-processing capacity, that is higher educational attainment, were more likely to read newspapers as compared to those with lower educational attainment levels (Chan & Goldthorpe, 2007). Since the study also sought to establish the relationship between social status and newspaper readership, the analysis took a multivariate approach.

The study results showed that the information-processing hypothesis was true. Higher educational attainment correlated positively with newspaper readership. The study thus concluded that individuals with higher levels of education spent more time reading newspapers than their counterparts with lower educational levels.

Age

Elsewhere, Coelho (2008) conducted a study to find out the influence of age on newspaper readership. The assumptions that underpinned the study were that the layout of the front page of a newspaper determined which age groups were most likely to read it. This was outlined in two hypotheses; the first one claimed that younger readers are attracted to images, while the second one claimed that older readers are more attracted to printed headlines. The study involved two groups, which comprised of individuals of different age groups.

The first group was made of eight adults aged between 40 to 50 years, while the second group comprised eight young adults aged between 15 to 18 years (Coelho, 2008). The two groups were presented with two categories of newspaper quality, where one category consisted of multicolored front pages with attractive graphics while the other was slightly dull.

The analysis was conducted by making a careful note of the entry points of the individuals on the newspapers and their reading paths. This approach served to identify the portions of the newspapers that captured the attention of the readers first. The results of the study showed that the older readers stick to a linear pattern of reading, which is dictated by the relevance of the information as presented on the newspaper cover page.

Younger readers for their part were less restricted by the relevance of information on the cover page and showed a clear affinity for the images (Coelho, 2008). The conclusion was that even though the study was plagued by limitations due to the number of respondents that participated and the number of newspapers used, the findings confirmed that age affected the readership behaviors of individuals.

The review of literature opens a window that gives insight into the factors that affect trends or patterns of newspaper readership among the population. Although there may be other factors that influence the patterns of newspaper readership among people of all age groups, the dominant ones are age, gender, and education level. Elvestad and Blekesaune (2008) argue that age, gender, household income, and the level of education are some of the dominant factors that influence newspaper readership in Europe.

Similar factors also influence newspaper readership in the United States and other developed countries. Empirical studies conducted in the past strongly point to the fact that the independent variables of this study (age, gender, and education level) influence the patterns of readership. This influence forms the basis of unearthing the causes of the dwindling newspaper readership trends that is evident across the world.

However, the decline in newspaper readership poses a great challenge to the newspaper industry because it compels it to balance the expectations of all individuals by considering their age, education level, and gender. Hence, for a newspaper to be competitive, it must overcome challenges in the newspaper market because it is becoming differentiating itself as time elapses.

Hypotheses

The first hypothesis states that men are frequent readers of newspapers than women. This implies that gender is a factor that influences newspaper readership among the population. Past research shows that gender influences newspaper readership patterns. Elvestad and Blekesaune (2008) conducted a study that revealed that men spend more time reading newspapers than women.

The findings show that there is a gendered interest of information that the newspaper provides. This means that men are common consumers of newspaper information while women are rare consumers of newspaper information. Thus, this study supports the hypothesizes that men are frequent readers of newspapers than women

The second hypothesis predicts that individuals with higher levels of education tend to frequent readers of newspapers than individuals who have lower levels of education. The differences in newspaper readership across the people due to their educational level, depict how educational level increases the demand for information.

A study conducted by Chan and Goldthorpe (2007) concluded that the level of educational attainment has a bearing on newspaper readership. In agreement with that study, this study assumes that individuals with a higher degree of education are frequent readers than individuals with a lower degree of education.

The third hypothesis of the study states that the frequency of reading newspapers among the population increases with age. In this view, the study assumes that older people are frequent readers than younger people. In a study conducted by Coelho (2008), age was found to influence newspaper readership patterns, as older people spend more time reading newspapers than younger people.

Although age is a dominant factor, other variables such as the level of income mediate the trend of newspaper readership among the population. Hence, this study predicts that the frequency of reading newspapers among the population increases with an increase in age.

Method

Participants

The study obtained its data from the General Social Survey (GSS), which provides demographic characteristics and attitudes among the people in the United States. The GSS applies proportional sampling technique when selecting participants and interviewing them in-person. The National Opinion Research Center (NORC) conducts a household survey by selecting individuals who are above 18 years old and subjecting them through face-to-face interviews and computer-aided personal interview (Davis, & Smith, 2011).

The GSS has been gathering data on contemporary issues with the objective of examining and monitoring trends and patterns of behaviors, attitudes, and attributes of Americans across the decades. In this view, since the study seeks to assess the influence of age, gender, and the education level on the newspaper readership patterns, it collected appropriate data from the GSS. From the GSS, the study selected 4901 participants so that it could assess their opinions regarding newspaper readership in terms of age, gender, and education level.

Instrumentation

As an instrument for assessing trends and patterns of newspaper readership, the study utilized five-Likert scaled questionnaire. The independent variables in the study are the demographic characteristics of the participants (age, gender, and education level). Comparatively, the dependent variable is the frequency of reading newspapers according to the five-Likert items (every day, a few times a week, once a week, less than once a week, and never).

Thus, age, gender, and education level are three independent variables, while the frequency of reading newspapers is a dependent variable. The research question was that, how often do you read a traditional newspaper? When answering the question, the participants gave their answers as per the five-Likert items.

Procedures

The scale of measurement of the independent variables, age, gender, and education level, is nominal, while the scale of measurement of the dependent variable is ordinal (Likert items on scale 1 to 5). Since the study sought to establish the effect of gender, age, and educational level on newspaper readership, the study used frequency tables and cross-tabulations in presenting results.

Moreover, the study applied a chi-square test in testing the three null hypotheses of the study. The significance level was set at 0.05 to reject the null hypothesis of age, gender, and education level. The statistical software for social science (SPSS) was applied in the analysis of data to create frequency tables, cross-tabulations, and in performing chi-square test.

Results

Data in frequency tables were analyzed to determine newspaper readership patterns among 4091 participants. Regarding the independent variable of age, the frequency table shows that out of 4091 participants who participated in the study, only 2041 managed to answer the questions well, and thus the valid number of participants. The young participants were 229 (11.2%), the medium participants were 736 (36.1%), and the old participants were 1076 (52.7%). The crosstabulation portrays that 9.6% of the young read newspaper daily while 26.9% never read the newspaper.

In the independent variable of gender, the frequency table shows that 2044 participants out of 4901 participants were valid. The frequency table indicates that male participants were 891 (18.2%), and female participants were 1153 (56.4%). The crosstabulation shows that 32.6% of male participants read newspaper daily, while 18.5% of the same participants never read the newspaper.

In the aspect of educational level as an independent variable, the frequency table indicates that participants with low education level were 1451 (71%), while those with high education level were 593 (29%). The crosstabulation of the education level depicts that 26.1% of participants with low education level read the newspaper daily, while 21.5% of the same participants never read a newspaper.

The chi-square test was applicable in testing the three null hypotheses of the study at the significance level of 0.05. The first hypothesis states that men are frequent readers of newspapers than women. The null hypothesis assumes that men and women read newspapers with seminar frequency, and thus expected percent distribution is 20%.

However, the observed distribution of percentages is 31.4%, 19.4%, 15%, 15.4%, and 18.8% for every day, a few times a week, once a week, less than once a week, and never respectively. The difference between the expected and observed percentages is significant (Ο‡2 = 108.315, df = 4, p<.005). Therefore, the null hypothesis is rejected, and thus proves that men are frequent readers of newspapers than women.

The second hypothesis predicts that individuals with high levels of education tend to be frequent readers of newspapers than individuals who have low levels of education. The null hypothesis expects that the distribution of responses from participants is 20%. Nevertheless, the observed distribution of responses in terms of percentages is 31.4%, 19.4%, 15%, 15.4%, and 18.8% for every day, a few times a week, once a week, less than once a week, and never correspondingly.

The distribution of responses shows that expected and observed percentages have apparent variation. The chi-square test shows that the apparent variation is significant, and thus the null hypothesis rejected (Ο‡2 = 52.567, df = 4, p<.005). Hence, the test proves that newspaper readership increases with education level of an individual.

The third hypothesis of the study states that the frequency of reading newspapers among the population increases with age. Although the expected distribution of percentages is 20%, nonetheless, the observed distribution of percentages is 31.3%, 19.3%, 15.1%, 15.4%, and 18.9% for every day, a few times a week, once a week, less than once a week, and never respectively.

The chi-square test of the apparent difference is not significant because the p-value is greater than the significance level (Ο‡2 = 1.055, df = 4, p<.005). In this view, the test fails to reject the null hypothesis, and therefore, establishes that gender does not influence newspaper readership.

Discussion

The decline in newspaper readership across the world has posed a significant challenge to the growth of the media. Elvestad and Blekesaune (2008) established that gender, age, household income, and education level are major factors that influence the readership of newspaper among the population. Thus, the media systems seek to establish factors that have caused the decline in newspaper readership with the view of improving the culture of newspaper readership among different populations.

While Coelho (2008) holds that age influences newspaper readership, Chan, and Goldthorpe (2007) hold that social status determines newspaper readership. Hence, it is imperative to determine if gender, age, and education level have any significant influence on newspaper readership among Americans based on the General Social Survey.

The first hypothesis states that men are frequent readers of newspapers than women. The study done by Elvestad and Blekesaune (2008) formed the basis of this study because it found out that men read newspapers frequently than women. Similarly, the analysis of data obtained from the General Social Survey reveals that men frequently read newspapers than women.

The revelation agrees with the earlier findings of Elvestad and Blekesaune (2008) and thus confirms that there is a strong connection between gender and newspaper readership. Therefore, gender is a predictive factor of newspaper readership among Americans.

The second hypothesis predicts that individuals with high levels of education tend to be frequent readers of newspapers than individuals who have low levels of education. The hypothesis has its basis on the study carried out by Chan and Goldthorpe (2007), which established that social status of an individual correlates with newspaper readership.

Likewise, analysis of data derived from the General Social Survey shows that individuals with a high level of education are frequent readers of newspapers than individuals with low level of education. Thus, the study confirms that education level is a significant determinant of newspaper readership among Americans.

The third hypothesis of the study states that the frequency of reading newspapers among the population increases with age. Coelho (2008) found out that the age of an individual determines newspaper readership in that the young people are poor readers while the old people are good readers. However, analysis of the data obtained from the General Social Survey shows that age and newspaper have no significant relationships. In this view, the study shows that age is not a predictive factor of newspaper readership.

Overall, the study established that gender and education level are significant predictors of newspaper readership among Americans. This means that the media systems need to improve the culture of newspaper readership among women and people with low level of education so that they can increase their consumer base. Baughman (2005) argues that the media should cultivate a culture of reading newspapers among the population.

Hence, it is evident that the decline in newspaper readership occurs due to gender and education level of individuals. In this case, the media should target women and Americans with low level of education. As the study established that age is not a significant predictor of newspaper readership, the media should focus on the general people irrespective of their ages.

The weakness of the study is that it used one research question in determining newspaper readership among Americans. The one research question is not reliable in establishing the frequency of newspaper readership because it examines one aspect of readership. Frequency of newspaper readership is not the only attribute that measures newspaper readership among Americans.

Reinhard (2001) states that increasing the number of Likert scale questions and items to enhance the reliability of the data. As the Likert scale items are reliable, the study needs to focus on the number of questions. Therefore, the study should expand the number of questions to improve their reliability in measuring newspaper readership among Americans.

Another way of improving the accuracy of the data is to enable the participants to provide accurate information. The data that the General Social Survey provided had many missing values, which significantly reduced response rates of participants. Out of 4901 participants, 58.3% of them formed missing values. This means that the response rate of participants was very low to warrant extrapolation of findings to the general population.

In this view, the study should clean the data first before analyzing to ensure that there are no significant values missing. Moreover, the study should use appropriate variables so that the potential participants can answer them appropriately, and thus improving the response rate.

References

Baughman, J. (2005). The Republic of Mass Culture: Journalism, Filmmaking, and Broadcasting in America since 1941. New York: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Chan, T. W., & Goldthorpe, J. H. (2007). Social Status and Newspaper Readership. American Journal of Sociology, 112(4), 1095-1134.

Coelho, Z. P. (2008). Front Page Layout and Reading Paths: The Influence of Age on Newspaper Reading. Studies in Communication, 4(1), 1-14.

Davis, J. A., & Smith, T. W. (2011). General social surveys, 1972-2010. Chicago: National Opinion Research Center.

Elvestad, E., & Blekesaune, A. (2008). Newspaper Readers in Europe: A Multilevel Study of Individual and National Differences. European Journal of Communication, 23(4), 425-447.

Reinhard, J. (2001). Introduction to Communication Research. New York: McGraw-Hill.

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