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If I'm not buying newspapers, who is?

by Mike McFeely

If I'm not purchasing newspapers, who is?

Newspapers put bread on my table from the day I was born in 1966 (my father worked at the Minneapolis Star and Tribune for much of his adult life) until the day I left The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead in 2009 (I worked there 20+ years, including my part-time days in college). I have clippings of newspapers my dad brought home in the 1970s. I can still smell the ink from the first time I walked into the Star and Tribune building in downtown Minneapolis almost 40 years ago. I love newspapers.

And I can't remember the last time I bought a newspaper.

This does not bode well for newspapers.

Don't misunderstand. I still read them, or at least their content. Just like I did this morning, when I turned on my Nook and browsed The Forum, StarTribune, Grand Forks Herald, Bismarck Tribune and New York Times while drinking my coffee. I enjoy the big stories of the day, the columns, the opinion pages. I love good writing. I enjoy a great photograph that captures the perfect moment. 

I consume the newspaper, I just don't pay for the newspaper.

That qualifies my relationship with newspapers as charity, not capitalism.

I am not breaking ground here. The plight of print media has been well-chronicled over the past decade. The Internet is killing newspapers and magazines. In terms of breaking news, my observations equal the fall of the Berlin Wall. Yawn.

But this morning was the first time I stopped to think about the last time I actually took money out of my pocket to purchase a paper, and I truly can't remember. It used to be when I traveled I would be sure to buy a local newspaper when I landed at the airport and pulled into town in a car. Not anymore. I used to buy a Sunday Forum or Star Tribune to read the extra-big edition, browse the classifieds or check the inserts for good deals or coupons. Nope. I used to purchase a paper the day after commemorative events -- big sporting victories or historic happenings -- and save them as keepsakes. No longer.

Then I took it another step: If I'm not buying newspapers, who is?

Some people will read the previous sentence and see an agenda: "McFeely works in radio now, so he is trying to undermine newspapers."

Not at all. As I wrote earlier, I love newspapers. I hope newspapers, in their current form or another, continue to survive and thrive long into the future. 

The more legitimate media -- some call it mainstream, some call it lamestream -- this nation has, the better off we are. Legitimate media some may find surprising, are held to certain standards of ethhics and accountability by consumers, advertisers and the general public. Yes, some of that is fading with the onslaught of new or alternative media -- but the standards are still higher than zero, which is what many blogs and other Internet-only sites have.

I'm sure there are studies upon studies about the future of newspapers, and I'm sure editors and publishers could send me reams of data on revenue and circulation that could bolster their belief newspapers are doing just fine.

And I'm sure somebody will take a shot at AM radio, which is what is putting bread in my family's mouths these days. 

I'm not denying people still consume the content of newspapers. But are they paying for it?

But I'll go back to the question with which I started:

If I, who grew up with newspaper ink in my veins, am not buying newspapers ... then who is? And who will?

(Mike McFeely is a talk-show host on KFGO-AM in Fargo, N.D. He can be reached at mike.mcfeely@mwcradio.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikeMcFeelyKFGO.)