Dailies Deal in 'News Lite:' Less filling, less nourishing for the civic mind," Honolulu Advertiser 2/18/96

By Tom Brislin
By the very act of reading these words, you have marked yourself as a member of a declining -- and some worry, endangered -- species: the newspaper reader.

It's no secret inside or outside the industry that newspaper reading is on the decline. Readership hasn't kept pace with the population. Certain groups of readers -- young women in particular -- are abandoning newspapers in alarming numbers; young people in general aren't taking up the regular reading habit; and those who remain are reading fewer issues per week and spending less time with each one. The mortality rate among newspapers themselves includes once formidable big names in big cities.

Why are readers turning their backs, rather than pages? What has so chilled civic credibility -- the only real currency the press can deal in?

There is a reason newspapers were afforded constitutional protection in the first amendment. The country's founders knew the press was an integral part of the citizen-democracy. The free flow of information was essential for citizens to make conscientious decisions about how they were to be governed. No other industry gets such top constitutional billing.

A burning question is whether the quality of that information has decreased to the point that it is fouling the democratic machine.

Just as it is no secret that people are turning away from newspapers, it is painfully obvious that many also have turned away from public participation in civic affairs. The two are related. Newspapers need to regain their franchise as powering the machin ery of democracy -- the citizenry. It has to run on a fuel richer than "Infotainment."