Friday, February 29, 2008

Editor & Publisher serves up comprehensive story on how rural and other community papers thrive

We've been reporting for a while about the good health of community newspapers, and now Editor and Publisher weighs in with a long takeout. Here's the nut graf: "While Wall Street analysts predict a future for newspapers in ever more apocalyptic terms, the fact is: Many small-market papers are not just surviving, but thriving."

Jennifer Saba and Mark Fitzgerald cite several examples and write, "All those headlines about newspapers' impending doom are, well, kind of irritating" to community editors and publishers like
Jeff Pelline, right, editor of The Union, a 16,000-circulation daily in Grass Valley, Calif., between Sacramento and Reno. "It's depressing to read so many stories about the industry dying," he told E&P. We reported Pelline's advice on the importance of the Web in December.

"Even some of the community publishers typically cited as examples of the industry slump are actually doing pretty well," Saba andFitzgerald report. "Consider GateHouse Media: In 2007, its first full year as a publicly traded company, GateHouse shares plunged 52.7 percent. But among its individual papers, the news is often a lot better. In Missouri, for instance, the aptly named 2,700-circ. Boonville Daily News and its weekly sibling The Record expected to end the year with ad revenues up 7 percent from 2006." (We presume the writers were alluding to boondocks; two demerits.)

As far as we know, no one compiles national circulation trends for weeklies, but Audit Bureau of Circulation figures analyzed by E&P show that circulation of dailies under 25,000 declined 2.4 percent from the year before, while those with 250,000 to 499,999 circ. fell 3.9 percent. In Kentucky, circulation of weekly newspapers actually increased, according to postal statements compiled by the Kentucky Press Association. Executive director David Thompson reports:

The totals for weekly circulation from the October 1, 2007, Statements of Ownership show an increase of 4,733. Since one of those, a new 3,000-circulation weekly, was filing its statement for the first time, a comparison of circulation of newspapers in 2006 and 2007, results in a net increase of 1,733. Overall, the 121 weekly papers with a Periodicals Class Mailing Permit had a total circulation of 490,209 in 2007, compared to 485,476 in 2006. The average circulation in 2007 for weeklies was 4,051, six copies per paper higher than in 2006.
Many of the newspapers or chains cited by E&P as bright spots are rural, but they also paraphrase National Newspaper Association executive director Brian Steffens as saying "that if a paper is in a rural community with a shrinking population and struggling business environment, they're probably not doing so hot." In a struggling or stagnant environment, we think the quality of the journalism matters, and E&P allowed us to make that point:
Getting editors and publishers who truly know their audiences -- personally, even -- pays off journalistically and financially, argues Al Cross, director of the University of Kentucky's Institute for Rural Journalism & Community Issues. In early January, he still had on his desk a Christmas Eve column from Brad Martin, editor of the 5,700-circulation weekly Hickman County Times in Centerville, Tenn. He reads a few paragraphs filled with names and references that mean nothing to his listener. "Brad Martin is just presuming, correctly I think, that everybody reading this column will recognize these names," Cross says. "Now that's a home run. That's an editor communicating with a reader, and at the same time helping them understand he has a unique job, to use an overused word. Now Hickman County is not a growing place -- but that's a fat paper. Just judging on the number of pages, it's healthy."
At 3,400 words, the story is perhaps the longest look at the business of community journalism in a major publication since American Journalism Review did a couple of stories about eight years ago. To read it, click here.

1 comment:

Daryl Phillips said...

I just wanted to comment on Brad Martin, the Hickman County Times, and rural newspapers in general. First, Hickman County is growing -- it's slow and behind each increment of growth is a lot of hard work. And part of that hard work is done by Mr. Martin. As the economic developer for the county, I see this first hand. If I might interject, I occasionally am not pleased with Mr. Martin's articles, but that does not mean he is not doing his job well.

The rural newspaper is such an important asset. The internet (blogs, email, and such) can keep us informed at a certain level. But on local issues, many people in the rural areas are not tech savvy and much of the rural area does not have access to broadband to become tech savvy.

Rural newspapers should -- and Mr. Martin's Hickman County Times does -- bring professional journalism to rural America... reporting the good and the bad, informing the citizenry, or prodding the community to action.

Too often, the larger media has equated adversarial with professional. Rural newspapers can remain an integral part of the community by entertaining, informing, investigating, provoking, etc. Doing this responsive to the needs of the community provides a tremendous value, is noble work, and I applaud you and Mr. Martin for doing your job.

For more information on Hickman County, Tennessee, go to www.hickmaco.com/vision21 or http://hcecda.blogspot.com

Daryl Phillips
Executive Director
Hickman Co. Economic & Community Development Assn.