Thursday, December 04, 2008

Amid dire forecasts in industry, community papers remain stable, and want to make sure you know it

UPDATE, Dec. 6: The prediction is extreme, and newspapers have other steps available to them, such as becoming nonprofit organizations or donating themselves to such groups, media-business analyst Lauren Rich Fine writes on

Several cities are likely to lose their daily newspapers in the next two years because the recession will deepen and some newspaper companies will default on debt and go out of business, Fitch Ratings said in a report on media companies yesterday. But just as the report was coming out, a group of community newspaper publishers went public with their plan to boost their sector of the industry, which is doing much better than metropolitan papers.

First, the bad news: Fitch, a subscriber-based credit rater, said in its 2009 outlook for the U.S. media and entertainment industries, "Fitch believes more newspapers and newspaper groups will default, be shut down and be liquidated in 2009 and several cities could go without a daily print newspaper by 2010."

Mark Fitzgerald of Editor & Publisher writes, "Fitch is generally pessimistic across the board, assigning negative outlets to nearly all sectors from Yellow Pages to radio and TV and theme parks. But the newspaper industry is the most at risk of defaulting, it says. . . . Fitch rates the debt of two newspaper companies, The McClatchy Co. and Tribune Co. as junk, with serious possibilities of default. It also assigns a negative outlook to both the companies and the newspaper sector, meaning their credit ratings are likely to deteriorate further." (Read more)

But to such observers, the newspaper industry generally means daily, metropolitan papers. Circulation and advertising declines have been much less at weekly papers and smaller dailies, the sort of papers that belong to the National Newspaper Association. The NNA Foundation wants to help members "meet current circulation and revenue challenges," but some in the group also think they "need help in changing the public's perception that ... the newspaper industry is dying," Foundation President Peter Wagner writes in the December issue of Publishers' Auxilary, NNA's member newspaper.

Wagner says the foundation board is planning efforts to "promote the community newspaper industry as growing and effective and certainly not in the downward spiral being reported by the larger chains and major metro papers," pay for promotion of public-notice advertising, an important revenue source and public service of most rural weeklies, and meetings to help younger members of newspaper-owning families run their companies. About 40 percent of weekly newspapers are still independently owned; for dailies, the figure is about 20 percent.

The foundation is looking for donations to do its work, and for suggestions. The current Pub Aux isn't yet online, but Wagner can be reached at or P.O. Box 160, Sheldon IA 51249. He is publisher of the N'West Iowa Review, one of the best weeklies in the nation. (He would want us to capitalize the last word in the paper's name, as he does.) We strongly endorse his efforts.

UPDATE: In the INA Bulletin out today, the Iowa Newspaper Association announced the theme for its 2009 convention, to be held Feb 5-6 in Des Moines, is "Learning to Survive and Thrive." Note that the logo puts the emphasis on "survive."


Kent Flanagan, aka Punster, said...

Hey, Al. you really do need to keep up better with media culture or, rather, TV shows, like Survivor in its many incarnations over the past few years. Please note the logo at:
-- Kent

Al Cross said...

Hey, Kent: I DO watch Survior some. The Iowa folks could have picked another logo, but I think they knew survival was at least at the back of many minds.