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The Rise and Fall of South Florida's Daily Newspapers

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All three of South Florida's daily papers have watched their circulation numbers nose-dive and even trimmed them intentionally to save money. This September, the esteemed Herald's Sunday circulation fell to 238,600, down from 353,000 in 2006. The Sun-Sentinel's Sunday circulation, at 239,200, is now higher than the Herald's but still down from 304,800 three years ago. The Post's Sunday circulation is just 143,600, down from 184,440 in 2006. As an alternative-weekly paper, New Times is not immune to the financial troubles affecting the industry. In recent years, its newsroom staff has been cut from 17 to 13, and its print circulation has fallen from around 80,000 to 54,500.

Anders Gyllenhaal, executive editor of the Herald, is quick to point out that his paper still has an edge in terms of actual readers in print and online. According to the September numbers, it had 5.2 million unique web users a month. "We reach more people than we ever have in our history," Gyllenhaal says.

Still, more web readers don't necessarily translate into more money. Online ads generate just a fraction of the revenue of print ads.

"There are virtually no online news operations that are really, fully supported with ad revenue," says Edmonds.

Newspapers are struggling to cope with the massive shift in the way people get their news. Since 1992, the proportion of Americans who say they read a newspaper regularly (in print or online) has fallen from 71 percent to 46 percent, according to a 2008 survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Meanwhile, the percentage of people watching cable-TV news has continued to rise — 39 percent of the public was watching last year, according to the Pew survey.

Then, of course, there are those who prefer to get their news online. A December 2008 Pew survey found that a whopping 40 percent of Americans said they got most of their national and international news online. However, a 2009 report by Pew's Project for Excellence in Journalism points out that "virtually all of the most popular news websites are those associated with traditional news organizations... or are aggregators, which collect content from traditional newsrooms and wire services rather than produce their own." In other words, traditional journalists are still producing the news people seek on the web.

As for why families stopped bringing the paper to their breakfast table, some say it's the quality of the news being delivered.

Since the '90s, publicly owned media companies have been cutting their newsroom budgets to preserve high profit margins on Wall Street. This tactic hit investigative reporters especially hard, since they earn higher salaries and write stories that take longer to produce. But without good muckrakers on staff, the quality of reporting went down and drove away customers, says Eleanor Farnen, president of the media consulting firm Strategists LLC and a PhD candidate at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

"If you're going to protect your brand in the newspaper business, you have to protect your content," she says. "The people in the newsroom, they keep the content alive."

Still, a lack of investigative journalism doesn't explain why USA Today, until this year, had the highest circulation of any paper in the country. Its short, simple news stories and fluffy celebrity pieces could hardly be considered hard-hitting journalism.

Perhaps there's a simpler explanation for the death of the fish wrapper. If people can hear about the latest murder trial online or on TV, they don't need to read a summary in the next day's paper. "If it doesn't surprise you," Dubocq says, "nobody's gonna buy it."


In 2006, Rose asked Dubocq to start digging into rumors about corruption on the Palm Beach County Commission. Dubocq combed through then-Commission Chairman Tony Masilotti's divorce files and land records, piecing together a panorama of questionable deals and missing money. Every day, his discoveries got more alarming.

"Have I told you how good I am today?" he'd ask Rose. "Let me tell you what I found today."

Before his first story on Masilotti broke, Dubocq called an old friend, John Kastrenakes, then an assistant U.S. attorney in West Palm. "Hey, Johnny," Dubocq remembers saying. "Take a look at the paper on Sunday."

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Lisa Rab
Contact: Lisa Rab