Old Media – was the golden era ever that golden?

“There is a country in the world where only 15% of the population has completed high school and just 5% have university degrees. Television sets are something of a rarity, cable is nonexistent; programs are available for only a limited number of hours a day – in black-and-white. The total circulation of weekly newspapers comes in at about 20% of the population. There is only one national magazine. No one has access to the Internet. No one owns a cell phone. The best bets for information seem to be radio, libraries, and access to a few knowledgeable people.

The country? Canada. The year? 1960.”

- The Boomer Factor by Reginald Bibby

Friends and proponents of “old media” keep referring to the “good old days” when people read allegedly high quality newspapers. More importantly they lament the decline of the number of people who read newspapers and who are news literate.

At the root of this fear is an assmuption that in an earlier era we had a better informed, more active and more engaged citizenry. As a result our democracy, social cohesion and rates of social engagement were stronger. What I love about the above statistics is how they vividly show that this idealized view of the past is a complete myth. Even at the height of this era, the 1960′s, newspaper subscription rates were at a mere 20% of the population.

It is worth noting that today 81% of households and 67.8% of Canadian have high speed access to the Internet. While not all of them are reading the New York Times of the Globe and Mail, I am willing to bet a good number of them are consuming a written, online media of some form. All this begs the question was the golden age of old media really all that golden?

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