Media became a powerful industry in the 20th century when technological advances as well as new techniques of journalism made the media industry global. Media market leaders became more and more dominant and invested more, and this in turn attracted more readers, which attracted more advertising revenue which led to greater economies of scale, which made more money to invest in attracting more readers. The 20th century also created a clear distinction between the quality and popular press which continues today. The vast majority of the national papers launched in the early 20th century were popular papers operating on the ‘mass circulation leads to more advertising revenue’ model. However, the quality papers did not follow that business model. The quality newspapers (which all now have websites) carry a large proportion of news and current affairs material and have not followed the human interest, tabloid headlines, sensationalist or prurient stories to attract mass audiences that the tabloids have in the search for readerships of millions. The ‘quality’ newspapers have created fewer media barons and empires: they operate on a quality, not quantity, principle. They deliver smaller readerships to advertisers, but their readerships are affluent elites with plenty of disposable income. Advertisers will pay more for access to those groups and thus the qualities do not require such large readerships. Quality newspapers tend to generate about 70% of their income from adverts, compared to 40% for the popular tabloids that make more through sales of their papers.
Newspapers remained heavily dependent on advertising. In the 1950s and 1960s paper circulation fell while costs of production continued to rise. Then came the most significant development of the post-war period, which was the introduction of new technology to printing and publishing in the 1980s. This revolution involved the replacement of old ways of printing papers with new computerized processes. This allowed media barons like Rupert Murdoch to break the power of the print unions whose control of the printing process had given them great leverage and bargaining power. Photos are now transmitted digitally, stories are e-mailed from across the globe, and perhaps more importantly scoops are announced on websites by freelancers running their own fairly small online media agencies.
By the beginning of the 21st century, the majority of North American newspapers were local rather than national. By 2000, there were around 1500 daily local newspapers in the US. Even the well-known quality publications such as The Washington Post and The New York Times did not really circulate outside the northeastern United States. Most Americans still read a local daily paper, such as LA Times, Boston Globe, or Atlanta Constitution and Journal. Virtually all the national and international news carried by local papers in the US was supplied by news agencies, especially Associated Press and United Press International. This has led to a lower diversity of reporting in the US and a higher fulfilment of demand for news being met by the broadcast rather than print media. Local titles such as The New York Times and The Washington Post have developed national influence because they are read by politicians in Washington. Many local papers follow their lead on stories, and some TV networks do so as well.