Current Research

How Institutions Decay: The Demise of Print Newspapers in Chicago, Paris and Buenos Aires. 
Research Associates: Eugenia Mitchelstein (Buenos Aires) and Ignacio Siles (Paris)


The print newspaper, one of the key institutions of modern society, has experienced a remarkable decline over the past few decades. Since print newspapers are the leading producers of original reporting in the media environment, their decline has major social, cultural, and political consequences. Existing work on this decline offers a wide variety of interpretations and conjectures about its social implications. Underneath this variety, however, lies a problematic common denominator: there has been a paucity of adequate empirical research on (a) the factors that account for the demise of print newspapers, (b) the mechanisms that have shaped the process of decay and the parallel attempts of resistance and renewal, and (c) the social, cultural, and political consequences of this process. This study aims to contribute to the filling of this void. It also intends to develop theory by examining the demise of newspapers as a window into the dynamics of institutional decay in other industrial sectors and social fields.

This project relies on interviews with key actors in the relevant social groups most directly involved with the demise of print newspapers. It looks at the larger information ecosystem that accounts for the production, circulation, and appropriation of news. These relevant groups include current and former newspaper personnel in editorial and business functions; members of online news enterprises that have recently launched to offer an alternative to traditional newspaper reporting; staffers in news organizations in competing media; news sources; personnel in marketing departments; public relations experts; press officers of various organizations; members of these organizations who frequently are the subject of news stories; journalism educators; media consultants; bloggers; and readers.

We conduct the research in three cities to ascertain the presence of general trends and local particularities. This focus on cities is based on the longstanding notion that newspapers are largely shaped by the urban environment in which they exist and are, in turn, crucial elements of its social and political life. The three cities chosen for this study are Chicago, Paris, and Buenos Aires. They also provide suitable entry points into different national settings and have a number of features in common that facilitate comparing findings from each urban context. Among other features, each of these cities is (a) large (with a population over 2 million and several more in the suburbs), (b) has shifted its economic engine from the industrial to the services sectors, and (c) has long been home to major political activity, large government bureaucracies, and a vibrant newspaper scene that includes at least two large dailies with divergent ideological and editorial orientations.

If you are interested in learning more about this study, please contact us at pjb9[at]northwestern[dot]edu, eugenia[at]northwestern[dot]edu, and/or isiles[at]u[dot]northwestern[dot]edu.