Friday, May 02, 2008

Key to Newspaper Survival is Putting Emphasis on Local

The world of newspapers has changed a lot in the past 10 years. Nationwide, larger newspapers with over 50,000 circulation are seeing subscriptions disappear. There is unrest in the industry. Smaller newspapers, which actually make up 88 percent of the industry, are worried about their bottom line too and fearful of competing in a digital world.

Well, John Schneller, a professor of journalism at the University of Missouri says "fear not!"

"It is the biggest newspapers that are in the biggest trouble," said Schneller at the Ozarks Press Association's annual conference. "Weekly newspapers have the voice of the community and the local franchise. In fact, they have what the larger newspapers want."

But weekly and small daily newspapers still need to do a better job of becoming the "community coffee shop." In order to do that, community newspapers need to reflect the community they serve. That means have a presence at the digital town square also.

One example of a newspaper that is doing a great job of being hyper-local is
Bluffton Today.

Morris Communications Corp. has begun publishing Bluffton Today, a tabloid newspaper tightly coordinated with a Web site, The hyperlocal publication will be distributed free in the namesake South Carolina community of about 15,000 people. Every reader will be invited to log onto the Web site and comment about stories, as well as start their own blog, upload pictures and even contribute recipes.

"Newspapers have gone on the Web by putting yesterday's news online," said Steve Yelvington, manager, Web site development for Morris. "That's a one-way street. We are doing the opposite; Participation is right at the center of what we're doing."

He added: " is a grand experiment in citizen journalism, a complete inversion of the typical 'online newspaper' model."

Readers' comments about stories will be edited and printed in the hard copy of the paper.

Success will be easy to judge, according to Yelvington. "People will be participating. The reality is people are doing this already, publishing their own Web sites and Web logs. The choice is not whether it will happen but whether we are going to participate in it."

Another thing that local newspapers need to work on is not telling people what they already know (reporting on things after the fact). Schneller says this type of reporting has a very limited value.

"Citizens have become a group that we talk about and not to. Newspapers need to lead the way with doing a better job and engage readers in our democracy," said Schneller.

Another example is the newspaper in Hannibal, Mo., which is going to be the subject of two later blog enteries here.


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