Tom Stites wasn’t surprised when the Pew Center recently unearthed numbers showing that newspaper readership has plummeted almost exclusively among those earning less than $50,000 a year.

“When I was breaking in as a reporter, I ran the police beat for the Kansas City Times. The managing editor, a crusty old guy named John Chandley, explained that he wanted me to provide at least a short item about every siren heard each night in all parts of the city, so our readers would know what had happened. And he meant all parts of the city, rich and poor. This kept me hustling, and to this day I remember the lesson: The newspaper I worked for wanted to sell papers to every household in the area.  They wanted 100 percent market penetration, or as close as they could come to 100 per cent. In 1962 and 63, when I was a police reporter, dailies everywhere wanted 100 percent market penetration. Newsday, where I worked in the 1970s, approached 85 percent penetration at its peak, the record for American newspapers. Now it’s about 40 percent . . . .

“Now fast-forward to the late 1980s. By this time I was associate managing editor of the Chicago Tribune, and all the talk among the news management was about editing the paper for the top two quintiles of the income distribution. That means that 40 percent market penetration is the goal, not 100 percent, and that the Trib cares little about 60 percent of the people who might be its readers. And these people are the men and women in the bowling alley. Why doesn’t the Trib care? Because these days non-affluent people shop at Wal-Mart, and advertisers like Lord & Taylor and stores that sell fancy wines don’t want to pay for circulation among people who can’t afford their wares. It’s as simple as that.”

Read the whole thing, complete with dingbats, here.

(Hat tip to Undernews.)