News of our passing

Published 9:08 pm Saturday, August 11, 2012

Pundits have been prognosticating the demise of the newspaper for as long as I’ve been in the business.

When I became a journalist, CNN was just coming onto the scene, and it was common knowledge that the era of 24-hour cable news spelled doom for the printed word. USA Today’s quick and widespread popularity back then in the ‘80s just proved that folks no longer wanted to read the long stories that populated the pages of most newspapers at the time. People wanted their news in quick, easily digested bites that included lots of fancy graphics in vibrant colors.

Today, nearly 30 years later, the Internet is widely expected to be the medium that will displace newspapers as the preferred way of disseminating information, and it’s hard to argue that the proliferation of tablet computers and smartphones hasn’t resulted in a massive shift in journalism.

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Metropolitan newspapers around the nation have faced serious problems during the past five years, and some have been unable to solve the problem of dwindling readership. In some cases, the result has been that major metropolitan areas have been left without daily newspapers. Other communities have lost their papers completely.

But common knowledge often fails to recognize major exceptions to the rule. In the case of journalism, a glaring exception is that of the community newspaper, where there are actually some exciting success stories amid the gloom and doom of the industry and the pressures it’s facing from the Great Recession.

One of those success stories is taking place right here in Suffolk.

A little more than a year ago, the Suffolk News-Herald set off on uncharted waters, turning to a free distribution system. We took the coin boxes off our newsstand boxes, stopped selling subscriptions to all but those who were willing to pay an admittedly steep price for them and crossed our fingers that we’d made a good decision.

Since that day in July 2011, we have seen something that’s been kind of incredible to watch: Our readership has grown by leaps

and bounds. During the past year, our distribution has grown by

38 percent on weekdays and by a whopping 60 percent on Sundays. Today, including pass-along readers (most papers are shared by two to three people before they’re recycled), we count more than 40,000 readers of the Suffolk News-Herald each day, more than we’ve ever had in the history of the paper and more than any other print product in Suffolk.

I prefer not to use this space often to sing our own praises. But this news is too exciting not to share with our readers, the people we believe have the most important stake in the Suffolk News-Herald. Many of you were worried that the move to free distribution was a death knell for this newspaper. We’re pleased to report, however, that news of our passing was — to paraphrase Mark Twain, another newspaperman — greatly exaggerated.

We’re still here. And we’re here to stay.