The newspaper industry’s death spiral is accelerating. The “increasingly rapid and broad decline in the newspaper business in recent months has surprised even the most pessimistic financial analysts.” In related news, the average age of TV viewers has reached 50 and is still rising. The networks are losing their audience.
The long-term trends hurting the newspaper and TV industry are fairly well understood at this point. At the bottom of most of them is displacement of newspaper-reading and TV-viewing time by Internet browsing. But this, and its consequences (a big one is the collapse of classified-ad revenues; Craigslist and eBay have hit the newspapers where they hurt) has long since been factored into analyst projections. The puzzle is that recently, within the last six to nine months, old-media channels are hemhoraging subscribers even faster than the long-term trend models can explain.
This worse-than-expected performance is happening as the mainstream media is becoming increasingly unable to obscure a fact that Americans following on-the-spot bloggers in Iraq already know; the surge worked, and we’re winning the second phase of the war in Iraq. Political and military conditions are steadily improving, Al Qaeda in Iraq is on the ropes, control of Basra has been wrested from Iranian-backed militias, and security in the former terrorist haven of Anbar province has been handed off to Iraqi forces who are handling it competently.
The recent acceleration in the decline of old media mirrors the recently accelerating success of the Iraqi counterinsurgency. I do not think this is coincidence; in fact, I believe these trends are feeding each other.
Success in Iraq, relayed home through blogs and new media, damages the reputation of an industry that has routinely made itself a willing conduit for anti-Iraq-war and anti-U.S. propaganda (long-term trend discussed here; egregious recent example here). But as the obvious disconnect between reality and the media’s preferred narrative of incompetence, defeat, and disaster has become wider, circulation has dropped proportionately.
The newspaper circulation crash, in turn, damages the ability of the Islamists and their apologists in the U.S. to influence the political framing of both the Iraq war and the larger effort to smash the Islamist terror network and its allies. The best evidence of their decline in influence is how rapidly “bringing the troops home” has receded from its early importance as an issue in the 2008 presidential campaign, replaced by gas prices and the subprime-mortgage mess.
We can be certain that an easing of domestic pressure to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq is not the outcome the Islamists or their domestic allies desired. That easing stiffens the resolve of our allies on the ground in Iraq — the national government, the Kurds, the “awakened” Sunni sheiks, and plain ordinary Iraqis who can see the improvement around them.
The hypothesis that these trends are driving each other leads to a prediction about observables. Newspapers that take a pro-Iraq-war position, and Fox News among the networks, should be faring better than competitors in similar markets, and the divergence should have increased markedly in the last six to nine months.
I don’t know whether this is actually true. If it’s not, and that can be documented, I’m certain an angry left-winger will trumpet the facts in the comment thread on this post. Let’s see, shall we?