Thursday, February 07, 2008

Community newspaper readership went up, or at least held stable, in the last two years

Readership of community newspapers held stable or increased slightly in the last two years, "in stark contrast to news reports purporting to chronicle the decline, if not demise, of newspapers," reports the National Newspaper Association, composed mainly of weekly papers.

The survey in markets of fewer than 25,000 people showed that last year's readership rate was 83 percent, up from 81 percent in 2005. That's within the margin of error, but error margins are based on a 95 percent confidence level, so chances are that community newspaper readership is rising. Even if it was stable, that would be in contrast to metropolitan papers.

"There are plenty of community newspapers that are maintaining or growing double-digit profit margins, and many that are also growing circulation and readership," NNA Executive Director Brian Steffens said. "I get more calls about new papers starting up than I get from publishers who are considering shutting down. The pace of community papers being bought and sold the past two years indicates a healthy and vibrant community newspaper market."

Steffens added, "I'm not immune to some very significant challenges facing the newspaper industry, but these numbers don't quite support 'the sky is falling' mantra. Part of the problem with reporting on the health and welfare of the newspaper industry is that virtually all of the previous research has been focused on large daily newspapers serving the top 100 markets. There are more than 1,400 daily newspapers and about 8,000 non-daily community newspapers across America."

The surveys were done with the help of the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri, where NNA has its headquarters. The group is seeking funds to conduct the research annually, and results of a 2008 update are expected to be unveiled in September, during the Missouri School of Journalism's celebration of its 100th anniversary."We know community newspapers have a different story to tell than some of the big dailies," says Steve Haynes, president of NNA and Haynes Publishing Co. in Oberlin, Kan. The survey also found that:

  • * 73 percent of community newspaper readers share their paper with friends, colleagues or family members, more than doubling the number of people who see the paper.
  • * On average, readers spend 41.8 minutes reading an issue of their paper, an increase of nearly four minutes from the 2005 survey.
  • * Nearly one-third of readers keep their paper for more than six days, enabling them to revisit a story or advertisement at their leisure.
For much more from the survey, click here.

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