I was in California on a recent morning and stopped to participate in one of my favorite things to do: read the Los Angeles Times, my all-time favorite out-of-town newspaper, a copy of which I had just purchased for 50 cents.

I grew up idolizing the great Jim Murray, and when I lived in Santa Barbara I subscribed to the Times. Seeing it is like seeing an old friend.

My reverie was short-lived, however, when I read the following headline:

"Layoffs Planned at the Orange County Register."

The article reported that due to an 11.9 percent dip in circulation over the past six months, Orange County's leading newspaper would be laying off between 80 and 90 employees, including 16 longtime editors and reporters.

Just days earlier, it had been reported that the Times circulation had also dropped — by 5.1 percent over the same period.

This was like one endangered species writing about another. The spotted owl writing about the hook-billed hummingbird.

That's what's called exaggeration for effect — a lesson from the aforementioned great Jim Murray.

But even if the Register and L.A. Times aren't ready to be euthanized just yet — and neither, I am extremely happy to note, is my all-time favorite in-town newspaper, the Deseret News, which saw a slight rise in its circulation — the trend their declines reflect is disturbing.

American newspapers are down a collective 3.6 percent since last fall. About 50 million people in the United States subscribe to or buy a newspaper — the same number as in 1946, when the population was less than half what it is now.

Technology is, of course, the problem. Too many people can access too many newspapers online for free — so why pay for the printed version?

And these same people can also utilize free online classified advertising, cutting into a traditionally huge source of income for newspapers.

Every journalist has to be thinking what I'm thinking: Just because the Internet makes the job about 10 times easier — it's like having your own butler to look up stuff for you who can also spell — why have we been praising it all these years?

Be careful what you give thanks for.

But then, bad-mouthing the Internet won't do any good. I am quite certain it is here to stay.

The only solution I can see is to somehow get people to sit down in the morning, set out some juice and a bagel, and refamiliarize them with the pleasure of unfolding the cheapest form of pure daily reading entertainment they can enjoy anywhere.

Although it is not free. We've got to work on that one.


Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com and faxes to 801-237-2527.