I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set I go into the other room and read a book. (Groucho Marx)


When it comes to American newspapers, a lot of people outside the United States think of that slender, serious paper, the International Herald Tribune, said to be on the daily reading list of many world leaders. The Herald Tribune, however, is not really an American paper. It is published in Paris (and printed simultaneously in Paris, London, Zurich, Hongkong, Singapore, The Hague, Marseille, and Miami) as an international digest of news, most of it taken from its much-larger parents. The New York Times and The Washington Post. Many people in America have never heard of it. And few Americans would read it when they can get the real thing, that is, the full-sized daily newspapers.

In 1986, a total of 9,144 newspapers (daily, Sunday, weekly, etc.) appeared in 6,516 towns in the United States. Most of the daily newspapers are published rain or shine, on Christmas, Thanksgiving, or the Fourth of July (Independence Day). Including the 85 foreign-language newspapers published in 34 different languages, the daily newspapers in the United States sell over 63 million copies a day. The 762 Sunday papers are usually much larger than the regular editions. The record for a Sunday paper is held by The New York Times. One issue on a Sunday in 1965 contained 946 pages, weighed 36 pounds, and cost 50 cents. Reading the Sunday paper is an American tradition, for some people an alternative to going to church. Getting through all of the sections can take most of the day, leaving just enough time for the leisurely Sunday dinner. The Sunday newspapers have an average circulation of 57 million copies. There are also more than 7,000 newspapers which are published weekly, semi-weekly or monthly.

Most daily newspapers are of the "quality" rather than the "popular" (that is, non-quality) variety. Among the twenty newspapers with the largest circulation only two or three regularly feature crime, sex, and scandal. The paper with the largest circulation, The Wall Street Journal, is a very serious newspaper indeed.

It is often said that there is no "national press" in the United States as there is in Great Britain, for instance, where five popular followed by three quality newspapers dominate the circulation figures and are read nationwide. In one sense this is true. Most daily newspapers are distributed locally, or regionally, people buying one of the big city newspapers in addition to the smaller local ones. A few of the best-known newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal can be found throughout the country. Yet, one wouldn't expect The Milwaukee Journal to be read: in Boston, or The Boston Globe in Houston. There has been one attempt to publish a truly national newspaper, USA: Today. But it still has only a circulation of 1.2 million and, in its popular form, can only offer news of general interest. This is not enough in a country where state, city, and local news and political developments most deeply affect readers and are therefore especially interesting to them.

In another sense, however, there is a national press, one that comes from influence and the sharing of news. Some of the largest newspapers are at the same time news-gathering businesses. They not only print newspapers, they also collect and sell news, news features, and photographs to hundreds of other papers in the U.S. and abroad.

Three of the better-known of these are The New York Times', The Washington Post's, and the Los Angeles Times' news services. In one famous example, an expose of the CIA published in The New York Times also appeared in 400 other American papers and was picked up or used in some way by hundreds more overseas. "Picked up" is not quite right. Such stories are copyrighted and other newspapers must pay for their use. Often newspapers try to avoid paying for this news by using the original newspaper's story and quoting the story indirectly ("The Washington Post reported today that..."). Because so many other newspapers print (or "borrow") news stories from the major American newspapers and magazines, they have great national and international influence. This influence spreads far beyond their own readers.

Largest Daily U.S. Newspapers (1986)

Newspaper circulation
The Wall Street Journal 1,985,000
(New York) Daily News 1,275,000
USA Today 1,168,000
Los Angeles Times 1,088,000
The New York Times 1,035,000
The Washington Post 781,000
The Chicago Tribune 760,000
The New York Post 751,000
The Detroit News 650,000
The Detroit Free Press 645,000
The Chicago Sun Times 631,000
The Long Island Newsday 582,000
The San Francisco Chronicle 554,000
The Boston Globe 514,000

In addition, these newspapers and others such as The Christian Science Monitor, The (Baltimore) Sun, the St. Louis Dispatch or The Milwaukee Journal are frequently mentioned among papers of international excellence. In a large international survey of newspaper editors, The New York Times was ranked by most as "the world's top daily."

Syndicated columnists, journalists whose articles are sold by an agency for simultaneous publication in a number of newspapers, have much the same effect. Serious editorial columnists and news commentators from the major newspapers appear daily in hundreds of smaller papers throughout the nation. This allows the readers of a small town daily to hear the opinions of some of the best national and international news analysts. Many newspapers also use syndicated columnists as a way of balancing political opinion. On the so called op-ed pages (opposite the editorial page) оf newspapers, columns from leading liberal and conservative commentators are of ten printed side by side.

Political and editorial cartoons are also widely syndicated. Well-known political cartoonists such as Oliphant or MacNelly are known to most American and many foreign newspaper readers. Comic strips from Jules Feiffer, Garry Trudeau, or the creator of "Garfield" are similarly distributed. Satire and humor columns often have international reputations as well. The humor of Art Buchwald or Erma Bombeck is enjoyed from New Mexico to New Delhi, although the first writer is at home in Washington, D.C., the latter in Arizona.