Demise of local newspapers greatly exaggerated
Thursday, March 22, 2012 5:23 AM
It was another Tuesday morning, and as usual I was sitting at my desk staring at my computer monitor in hopes a column would miraculously appear on the screen ... but to no avail.
As the minutes passed and no creative ideas popped into my head for the "column of the year," panic was just starting to set in when suddenly an old friend burst into my office with his usual lack of finesse and grace. Normally I would have been peeved - I do not suffer fools well - but since his presence would certainly help delay the column-writing process, I was actually glad to see him.
Although his true identity will remain a mystery in order to protect his privacy, let's call him Curt Mudgeon. Seems about right. In fact, perfect.
"How ya doin' Ricki boy?" asked Curt.
"Not bad," I responded. "Just sitting here trying to come up with a fresh, original column but I'm not having much luck. Any suggestions?"
"Why bother?" said Curt. "Aren't newspapers supposed to be obsolete in short order anyway? I'm sure another one of your columns isn't going to stop the inevitable. Technology is taking over our world, you know."
His rather abrupt assessment of my writing capabilities was probably spot on, but I took issue with his general premise.
"The demise of all newspapers was predicted more than five years ago now, but to my knowledge the vast majority are still printing and selling subscriptions. In fact, small, local papers are doing just fine because readers have decided they like the convenience, portability, speed and "feel" of a newspaper, and it's ridiculously affordable. If you purchase a local subscription to Decorah Newspapers, it's less than 34 cents an issue ... nothing is that cheap anymore," I said.
"That's true, but I'll take issue with the speed thing," said Curt. "How can it be faster than the Internet?"
"That's easy to prove," I responded. "I can flip through the pages of a newspaper and scan the headlines for stories that interest me a lot faster than you can turn on your computer, find the appropriate website, scroll through the accompanying menu and then select the story you want to read. And it requires no electricity, batteries or Internet-access fees. It's a real bargain, and unlike online blogs that claim to be real news sources but aren't, newspapers are written by professional journalists who value fairness, accuracy and credibility."
"I never thought of it that way," said Curt. "I see your point. So you think newspapers will survive this technology boom that has everyone a twitter ... so to speak?"
"I sure do," I said. "No question all quality newspapers have had to get more efficient, which is a good thing, and most have their own website to compliment the printed product, but I think our doors will remain open for a few more years. Newspapers have been and remain the No. 1 source for most people when it comes to obtaining news of the day and advertising information, and that's because people read them ... pure and simple. I don't see that changing any time soon, no matter how high-tech we get. There's just something 'real' about a newspaper."
"Do you have any statistics to back up your claims?" asked Curt.
"Glad you asked," I said. According to a study from the National Newspaper Association and the research arm of the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism (arguably the most respected journalism school in the world), readers in areas served by community newspapers continue to prefer the community newspaper as their source of local news and advertising.
"And check out these facts:"
The study shows that 74 percent of people in communities served by a newspaper with circulations fewer than 15,000 read a local newspaper each week. They prefer the printed copy to the online version, with 48 percent saying they never read the local news online.
They prefer to receive advertising through the newspaper (51 percent) instead of on the Internet (11 percent). And only about a quarter of respondents said they had found local news through a mobile device in the past 30 days.
Readers, on average, share their paper with 2.33 persons.
61 percent read local news very often in their community newspaper while 48 percent say they never read local news online (only 11 percent say they read local news very often online).
Of those going online for local news, 52 percent found it on the local newspaper's website.
The local community newspaper is the primary source of information about the local community for 51.8 percent of respondents compared to seeking information from friends and relatives (16 percent) and TV (13.2 percent). Readers are seven times more likely to get their news from their community newspaper than from the Internet (7.4 percent). Less than 6 percent say their primary news source is radio.
"Pretty impressive," said Curt. "I think I'll buy a subscription for my brother. After all, it's only 34 cents an issue. Anyone can afford that."