Newspapers aren’t dinosaurs

Published 9:23 pm Saturday, February 28, 2009

I had the privilege of speaking at the North Suffolk Rotary Club this past Friday. The topic I chose was the public’s perception of the future of newspapers. It’s appropriate to share some of that discussion with you to help combat the buzz that all newspapers are dinosaurs and are on the verge of their very own Ice Age.

For most newspapers in our country, when net paid circulation is combined with free circulation and daily unique visitors to their Web sites, the total number of readers served is higher than the highest net paid circulation recorded prior to the implementation of online products.

That’s hard for many to believe, because we’ve been bombarded by news of declining circulation. But when we sift that information for fact, what we find is that most of the bad news we are hearing about newspapers relates only to the top 100 or so newspapers in the nation.

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A recent survey done by the National Newspaper Association focused on the industry and its readership. The survey found that more people are more in tune with their community newspapers than ever before. A few interesting statistics: 86 percent of adults read community newspapers, up from 83 percent in 2007 and 81 percent in 2005. About three-quarters of those readers read most or all of their newspaper. More than one-third of readers keep their papers for more than six days, enabling them to revisit a story or advertisement at their leisure.

The NNA executive director commented about the report and its findings this way: “Just about all of the research and news reports on the “struggling” newspaper industry have been based on what’s happening at the top 100 major metropolitan newspapers, maybe the top 250. That doesn’t tell the story of the remaining 1,200 daily newspapers or 8,000 community weekly papers in America.”

“Many of those troubled papers started as community papers and then enjoyed decades of growth as they expanded into adjacent communities and surrounding suburbs, becoming regional newspapers and losing that tight community focus,” he added. “That worked for a while, but that model may not be as successful going forward. But it doesn’t seem right to paint the rest of our industry with that brush.”

I couldn’t have said it better. Sure, businesses are spending fewer advertising dollars this year than last due to the economy, but that doesn’t mean our readers have gone away. Bringing the discussion to the local level, the News-Herald continues to see increased readership in both our print and online products.

So yes, newspapers are struggling, just not all of them. Declining circulation is impacting those large newspapers, but community daily and weekly newspapers shouldn’t be in the same discussions. There will always be a place for local news and opinion, a gathering place for information about what occurs in a community.

Carmage Walls, a community newspaper icon and a former owner of this newspaper, once wrote, “A newspaper is the greatest force for good or evil in a community.” As long as there is news in a community and interested parties, there will be a place for us.