The Shrinking U.S. Newspaper: 1964 – 2011

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Most people know that newspapers have reduced the size of their pages (or what we used to mean when we talked about “the web”) to save newsprint, but unless you have a lot of old papers lying around the house (ahem), you may not realize how much has been cut.

Here’s a 1966 copy of The Times from the Daily Mirror archives, compared with the Oct. 24, 2011, paper.

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This comparison is even more dramatic: The elimination of 3 1/2 columns on a double truck or 1 3/4 columns per page. Using the SAU (standard advertising unit) calculation of 21 inches per column for a full newspaper page, that roughly translates to the loss of a 35-inch story (or 35 inches of ads) on every page. For comparison, most newspaper stories today run in the 20- or 25-inch range. A 35-inch story is often considered too long except for the most compelling news or writerly feature.

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And here’s a 1964 issue of the New York Times compared to the Oct. 23, 2011 front page.

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About lmharnisch

I work at the Los Angeles Times
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12 Responses to The Shrinking U.S. Newspaper: 1964 – 2011

  1. B.J. Merholz says:

    I noticed a while back that the LA TIMES had shrunk to a width of 11 inches, which is one inch short of my shoe size. For whatever that is worth.

    Where the front page used to start up to eleven items, it now offers six.
    But, to tell the truth, I don’t know what is missing.

    Until I read the NY TIMES, which is only 1/2 inch wider but routinely prints several more pages than the LA TIMES.

    Moral: don’t read the NY TIMES

  2. pete nowell says:

    The decline of newspapers is one the saddest things I’ve seen in my lifetime

  3. The San Francisco Chronicle, once an upper middling paper, was sold to Hearst about a decade ago. It has become a tabloid. In substance and style. William Randolph would have been proud.

  4. John Piggott says:

    Hard to tell because I can’t zoom in but do all the NYT front-page stories spill inside? Or do they mostly contain on the front (though I find that hard to imagine)? Or are they typically write-offs (as we call them in Australia)?

  5. I doubt Mr. Hearst or anyone else would find much pride in these comparisons of newspapers then and now. It’s bad enough that the width has decreased but so have the number of total pages. I stopped taking the Times print edition for a couple of months and have been saddened by the decline in page counts even in that short time span. And this is the fourth quarter, when newspapers traditionally got bigger. Bad sign.

    • lmharnisch says:

      @Keith: The changes in page counts are amazing. The Times editions from the 1930s (22 pages) and ’40s (18 pages during the war) are, by our standards, fairly small — although the physical pages are much bigger. The real monsters come in the 1970s and ’80s with the zoned editions, guny (pronounced “goonie”) sections, etc. I don’t think we’ll see a guny section again in our lifetimes.

      • I have to admit, I’m not from the newspaper industry. I was a radio newsperson (remember when a station had one of those), so pardon the ignorance. Zoned edition I understand. Please define a guny section. Thanks in advance.

      • lmharnisch says:

        @Gary: The Times used to have “zoned editions” for different parts of Los Angeles, the largest examples being the Orange County, Valley, Ventura and San Diego editions, which published daily. The Times also had sections that published more localized news several times a week for the Westside, San Gabriel Valley, Long Beach, Glendale, Southeast L.A., South Bay, etc. And after the Los Angeles Riots, we even had City Times. All of that was gradually scrapped in a series of cost-saving measures.

        “Guny” (pronounced goonie) sections were “evergreen” sections that were prepared in advance for the big holiday papers — loaded with advertising — we used to publish. The stories were interesting (hopefully) features that were devoid of any time elements and could run anytime.

  6. Like so much else the size/quantity decreases while the price increases. For example, a related product: paper towels! Can u imagine the price today at the news rack if the the size & bulk were the same as 1/2 century past??

  7. Dick Morris says:

    Those of us who delivered the Sunday Times from a bike around 1964 well know how big the paper used to be. It must have weighed five or six pounds and been 2-1/2 to 3 inches thick. I tried to put the paper on the porch – or at least next to it. It was no small task to throw them the necessary 20 feet or so. On my route of 25 to 30 papers I had to use two bags, one on the handle bars and another on a rack on the back or make two trips. If I delivered them in one trip the papers outweighed me until nearly half of them were delivered.

  8. I just noticed this today while reading the Daily News (San Fernando Valley, CA) and thought it was my imagination. Thanks for the info!

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