The National Newspaper Association recently reported the results of its fifth readership survey on the patterns of community newspaper readers and its findings may surprise you. They surprised me.
Despite the availability of news 24/7 online, community newspapers continue to show strong readership. And 78 percent who read a community newspaper said they read most or all of it — and they prefer to read the print version rather than go online.
That’s about the opposite of what most large metro newspapers are experiencing, hence their identity crisis about how to respond to the Internet and the availability of news around the clock.
Sadly, the Metroplex metros that I used to work for have responded to their dwindling readership and sagging advertising by cutting their staffs, gutting their levels of talent and experience and scaling back their news coverage.
So why should we care about this survey? For one thing, it helps us at the Reporter figure out how to better serve our readers and reflect the community in which we live. For example, we're still going to be putting more and more content on our Web site, but we realize that our primary way to reach readers in this community is through the print product. We can add bells and whistles online, but nothing can ever take the place of holding this newspaper in your hands, turning the pages and cutting out photos of your kids or loved ones when they get recognition.
For our readers, it means you have the power to let us know what you want in a newspaper by your subscriptions and your advertising dollars.
Glen Rose is fortunate to have two community newspapers. There’s some overlap between the two, but the Reporter prides itself on its governmental coverage, sports section, strong features and commentary. We consider ourselves the newspaper of record because we regularly cover governmental meetings and are not afraid to report on unpopular topics or let readers know of crime going on in the community. To not do so is, in my mind, a disservice to readers.
Some people don't like that sometimes because they either don't like negative news or they don't want to know that bad things sometimes happen in their community. Thankfully, those are the exception rather than the rule. But I joke that I had to grow an extra spine when I became a community newspaper editor. A second layer of skin, too. When people don't like something in the paper, I hear about it. And I should.
The survey didn’t go into the reasons for these strong community readership trends, but one can make some logical guesses. Lots of folks in this town enjoy reading their newspapers around the breakfast table, the Dairy Queen or their favorite place to sip a cup of coffee. Some older readers don’t have computers or don’t like to use them to get their news. I still think reading a newspaper online is kind of clunky. I read The New York Times online because I can't receive home delivery here, but I'd much rather have the paper in my hands, messy ink on your hands and all.
Here are some other survey findings:
Those who read a local newspaper each week share it with 3.34 people on average. That's great news for advertisers — more bang for your buck.
Readers spend about 37.5 minutes reading the paper — another statistic that defies the conventional wisdom that people don't have time to read anymore.
More than half — 54 percent of readers — say they NEVER read local news online. Of those who do go online for local news, 55 percent get it on the local newspaper’s Web site.
I recall discussions in journalism school about whether newspapers would ever cease to exist. I still think there’s a demand for them. It's just so much easier for the human eye to take a page in rather than click, click, click to find items. And what would a bird cage or cat litter box be without one?
At any rate, the survey underscored to me that I'm in the right place at the right time.
Community news is where it's at in journalism these days. Having a relationship with readers is a pleasure — even though sometimes I don't know if someone is going to want to shoot me or shake my hand.
And when my friends who work at Dallas or Fort Worth or New York newspapers ask me, “Don't you have trouble finding things to write about down there?” my answer is always this — there's a wealth of community news out there, especially in a vibrant place like Glen Rose. It's just a matter of finding it.