Wednesday, May 16, 2007

What is the key to survival for newspapers?

The survival of newspapers is a topic I’ve written about many times on this blog. Other academics and media groups are concerned with the same issue as larger newspapers continue to suffer from circulation loss.

Smaller newspapers (weeklies) and holding their own and some are even showing growth. Why is that? One of the main reasons is that these smaller newspapers are closer to their communities and their readers. The readers of community newspapers (small dailies and weeklies) feel a connection to the publication and they can identify with the newspaper.

If that is a strong suit for a small newspaper then there must be a disconnect between metro newspapers and the reader. Weekly newspapers cannot afford that type of disconnect.

A commentary in the December 2006 issue of Editor & Publisher by John Fredericks suggests that larger newspapers know this disconnect exists, they just don’t know what to do about it.

Frederick’s lists several suggestions for removing this disconnect. For starters, he notes that the return on investment (ROI) a reader receives from time spent “engaging with the content” of the newspaper determines the paper’s value to the reader. He contends that metros are not valuing readership as they should.

“Readers are fleeing because the content most major newspapers provide is not giving them an ROI on their time invested,” Fredericks wrote. “It’s that simple. Once again the basic principles of microeconomics trump the experts! The industry’s response is (similar) to the Queen of France 200 years ago. When posed with a similar dilemma, she boldly responded, ‘Let them eat cake.’ If memory serves me correctly, she was beheaded.”

In the November issue of Editor & Publisher, a commentary by Mark Moore, former editor-in-chief of Metro U.S., publisher of free, daily newspapers in three metropolitan areas, posed the question of what metro newspapers have to do to counter the readership trend and answered it this way: “Give the readers what they want.”

Moore, in his comments, offers some interesting ideas on what constitutes giving readers what they want. Two that are sure not to receive wholehearted endorsement are: embrace the tabloid format because it’s easier to read and to use, and have free circulation rather than paid. Internet competition makes paying for information seem archaic, and young readers especially know they don’t have to pay for their news, Moore says.

His other suggestions include writing succinct, informative, useful stories and using graphics and information/summary boxes to aid the reader; making readers regular contributors to the newspaper, especially as columnists; hiring young reporters and listening to their ideas; focusing on local news remembering that “quality trumps quantity;” stop endorsing political candidates; and get rid of editorial pages.

Those last two are controversial, to say the least.

Giving readers what they want is important to the survival of newspapers in American. However, does giving readers what they want harm a newspaper’s credibility? Should readers also be given information deemed important and useful for them to know even if they might not want it?

I’d be interested to know your comments.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Journalism's Future: A "Panorama of Possibilities," Concludes Overholser in New Study

Downward trends in circulation have many people talking about the future of journalism. There is plenty of finger pointing but change seems had to find.

Even revenue from classifieds is moving downward as more Americans sell items via ebay or Craigslist. You can read the comments of Craigslist founder in Editor & Publisher about this change and what he sees as the failure of American newspapers.

Along those same lines, a member of the journalism faculty at the University of Missouri recently wrote about the future of journalism. Here is a release that announced her work during the fall of 2006.

Journalism will survive only if it adapts to the times, writes Geneva Overholser in a new report titled "On Behalf of Journalism: A Manifesto for Change." The report was released in the fall by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.

"The story of American journalism is undergoing a dramatic rewrite," says Overholser, a nationally known reporter and editor who formerly worked for The New York Times, the Washington Post and the Des Moines Register before joining the faculty of the Missouri School of Journalism. "The pace of change makes many anxious, and denunciations are lobbed from all sides - and from within. It's easy to overlook the promise of the many possibilities that lie before us."

Overholser holds the Curtis B. Hurley Chair in Public Affairs Reporting at the School and works out of its Washington, D.C. bureau at the National Press Club.

The Overholser report, a project of the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands, in partnership with the Annenberg Public Policy Center, is the result of more than a year's worth of research and interviews. The project grew out of a June 2005 conference in Philadelphia that brought together 40 journalists, scholars and news executives to discuss the role of the press in a democracy and what might be done to enhance it.

In the process, topics such as the growing financial pressures on newspapers, the benefits of public vs. private ownership, credentialing of journalists, the role of government in a free press and new forms of media were discussed. At the conclusion of the conference, Overholser conducted additional analysis of media problems and potential solutions before writing the report.

She also created a list of "action steps" - recommendations designed to keep the nation's media vigorous and independent, while recognizing a dramatically different information landscape.

"We are not lacking for ways to deliver information," Overholser concludes. "What we are lacking, increasingly, is the particular kind of information that keeps free people free...The first step toward solving this challenge is understanding its magnitude. Then will come necessary actions from many different constituencies. We intend to pursue these solutions vigorously, in the fine company of others working on behalf of journalism."

You can find the full manifesto for change online here:

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Newspaper Circulations Nationally and Locally Trending Downward

Newspapers nationwide are losing readers. In general, the trend in southwest Missouri appears to be the same – although some weeklies have shown growth. You can read about the national trend here. Basically, for all newspapers reporting daily circulation, the Newspaper Association of America said that daily circulation fell 2.1 percent while Sunday circulation fell 3.1 percent this year.

In Springfield, the News-Leader reported average paid circulation of 63,061 (daily) and 91,513 (Sunday) in April 2003. Compare that to the numbers reported in September 2006: daily paid circulation of 58,238, and Sunday circulation of 84,147.

How are other newspapers in the region doing? To answer that question I pulled out my 2002 and 2007 copies of the Missouri Press Association newspaper directory. Each of the newspapers in that directory self-report circulation numbers each year. These are not necessarily the same as the numbers that appear in circulation audits (as reported above with the News-Leader). Do you see a trend here among these 16 randomly selected newspapers in southwest Missouri:


Joplin Globe – 2002 paid 34,598 and Globe Sunday paid 43,000; in 2006, paid 30,242 and Sunday 23,684
Carthage Press – 2002 paid 4,278; in 2006, paid 3,854
Monett Times - 2002 paid 4,066; in 2006, paid 3870
Branson Daily News - 2002 paid 11,170; in 2006, paid 9813


Ash Grove Commonwealth - 2002 paid 1,498; in 2006, paid 1,000
Aurora Advertiser - 2002 paid 3,489; in 2006, paid 2904
Bolivar Herald-Free Press - 2002 paid 7,134 in 2006, paid 7,050.
Crane Chronicle/Stone County Republican - 2002 paid 2,446 in 2006, paid 2,316
Greenfield Vedette - 2002 paid 2,656 in 2006, paid 1,358
Lamar Democrat - 2002 paid 3,312; in 2006, paid 3,900
Marshfield Mail - 2002 paid 5,012; in 2006, paid 5,800
Mt. Vernon Lawrence County Record - 2002 paid 3,622; in 2006, paid 3,900
Ozark Christian County Headliner-News - 2002 paid 3,620; in 2006, paid 5,750
Republic Monitor - 2002 paid 3,630; in 2006, paid 3,050
Seneca News-Dispatch – 2002 paid 1,786; in 2006, paid 1,868
Stockton Cedar County Republican - 2002 paid 2,638; in 2006, paid 1,954

A few of these weeklies have shown growth. What makes the newspapers in Lamar, Marshfield, Mt. Vernon, Seneca and Ozark different from those that had a slide downward in circulation? The growth of those newspapers could be because of the product itself or the growing communities those publications call home. Or, readers may actually prefer community journalism. I’m sure there are other possibilities too as well as success stories specific to each individual market.

The bigger question to me is what impact is this change going to have on our democracy? Join in the discussion of this topic here.