AT LEAST one segment of my profession’s demise has been predicted for years even, at times, from within the industry.
To some degree that prediction is coming true within the more precise world of major city daily newspapers. One of the most recent examples is the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Its owners cut it back from seven days a week to three times per week.
Perhaps New Orleans isn’t a good example of the scary trend but nonetheless, there are still some signs that major dailies are in trouble. After all, New Orleans has suffered some blows that most major cities aren’t going to undergo, Hurricane Katrina being the most damaging.
New Orleans lost significant population after being inundated by levee failures during Hurricane Katrina. That loss was accompanied by a parallel demise of businesses that buy advertising space in a daily newspaper, the lifeblood of any publication.
PERHAPS New Orleans will ultimately regain some, if not most, of the population loss. However, newspapers are like any other business in that they must have substantial revenues and must operate at a profit. The revenue-expense-profit numbers told the Times-Picayune’s owners that wasn’t possible with a seven-day-a-week paper.
While there has been considerable rumbling in the daily newspaper segment of the industry for several years, the major effect has been a shrinkage in size, revenue and news-advertising capacity.
On the other hand, the nation’s community newspaper industry continues to significantly out-perform its big city daily brethren. Thankfully, it is rare to hear of a weekly or semiweekly paper closing its doors. Community newspapers — small dailies, thrice-, twice- and once-weeklies — are still reasonably healthy, although perhaps not at the levels of the 1970s and 80s.
SMALLER communities — those served by the smaller newspapers — provide an element that is not so easily identifiable nor as significant an influence in large cities: smaller papers can make it more personal.
Space constraints at major dailies dictate that significant space be given to international, national and state news as well as the civic and governmental news of that city. While, big dailies may have some personal and individualistic news, they cannot and do not produce it in a volume that comes close to what community newspapers are able to do as a percentage of their total news product.
You can be almost assured that Madie Jones’ 95th birthday will be acknowledged with a picture and information in a community newspaper whereas a daily of any size is compelled, by the ruts of tradition, to devote a significant amount of space to “the larger picture of the news.” Yet, Madie’s celebration is the lifeblood of a community newspaper’s existence, compelling enough to be attractive to advertisers from every segment of a city.
Community newspapers are noted as providers of scrapbook clippings, giving such papers a coffee table life beyond the regular city daily.
PREDICTABLY, a community newspaper’s share of the local advertising revenue compared to a daily paper in a major market is significant enough to bolster the community paper’s existence. A major daily’s uncertainties are exacerbated by less total and comprehensive community coverage than a community paper’s.
These problems are magnified in today’s young society where reading something in print is not as natural as it is for the older segment of the population. Add to that all the readership areas opened up by the proliferation of online sources. Today’s young adult readers are more inclined to get their information from some electronic source, rather than get the printer’s ink on their hands by reading the daily newspaper or tire themselves out, God forbid, by holding up a “heavy” book.
Community newspapers, however, have gained strength in today’s market by offering strong products both in print and online, continuing to prove their necessity in the market.
Willis Webb is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher of more than 50 years experience. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.