Even John Q. Public doesn’t believe newspapers are going to survive …

It’s not just inside observers who are predicting the demise of the printed newspaper. The “Great American Public” seems to be well clued in to the problems of newspapers also. In fact, a poll released by Rasmussen Reports on May 12, 2009 reports that fully two thirds of adult Americans believe daily papers will disappear within the next ten years.

Even more dramatic, nearly one in five respondents think that it will happen within three years.

When two thirds of all adult Americans predict daily papers will go the way of the dinosaur within the coming decade, that’s big news. No longer is this just a discussion among industry insiders … it’s crept into the popular culture. That’s yet another big danger signal for the papers.

All of this is underscored by Rasmussen’s findings that a majority of Americans (56%) purchase a paper once per week or less — and 37% rarely or never buy a print version of their local paper.

In a possibly related development, Rasmussen’s surveys report that the credibility of newspapers and other media has declined in the public’s eyes. For example, only about one in four respondents has a favorable opinion of the New York Times. That may be a new low for a paper that likes to think of itself as America’s #1 print news source.

The most recent Newspaper Association of America’s financial figures are showing that newspapers have lost a whopping $18 billion over the past three years in their print operations. And while many papers have been counting on their online operations to counterbalance all of this red ink, total Internet revenues over the same period amounted to ~$9 billion — not nearly enough to erase the losses on the print side.

Of course, as this is 2009, the story would not be complete without government officials coming to the rescue, offering their share of interesting proposals. But how does the public feel about these efforts by politicians to save the newspapers? Nearly 40% favor federal government subsidies to keep newspapers in business … but slightly more than half feel it’s better simply to let them go out of business.

It will be interesting to see what the federal and state legislatures actually end up doing — whether it be turning newspaper companies into not-for-profit entities as Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland has suggested … or providing special business tax breaks for the industry as has been proposed by Washington’s governor Christine Gregoire.

Whatever is attempted, my prediction is that it won’t have nearly the positive effect its proponents hope for. The sweep of change in the communications arena is simply too broad and deep for that.