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.