The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Columns

March 21, 2014

Newspapers still reaching, informing communities

Now seems like as good a time as any to launch a blitz on the importance of good, old-fashioned reporting in relation to today’s changing media landscape.

When I was a journalism student many years ago, it was customary to define newspapers as a vehicle for giving the public information that it needed for making decisions about life.

Another purpose of the daily and weekly publications was to put consumers in touch with advertisers so they could obtain the goods and services they desired.

Most newspapers now publish online as well as in print. The online versions are called online newspapers or e-editions.

Despite a wide variety of news outlets, however, both in broadcast and in print, readers still prefer newspapers for local news, stories about schools and education, and arts and culture coverage. That’s because newspapers, among all news sources, have the widest range of topics that attract a significant number of people.

But their range hasn’t kept the overall number of newspapers from sliding during recent decades. The United States has fewer than 1,500 daily newspapers today. That number has been declining since 1910 when there were about 2,000 daily newspapers in circulation.

The real change in the industry is not just the number of papers but also the environment in which they operate. About 50 years ago most cities of more than 100,000 people (and many smaller cities) had two competing newspapers that were owned by different people and published separately.

In the 1960s the economics of the business forced many newspapers to consolidate with their rivals, and it was not uncommon to see a morning and afternoon newspaper published by the same company.

The good news for the industry today, though, is that the newspaper remains an extremely strong advertising medium. Advertisers spent nearly $50 billion on newspapers last year, giving that medium almost 20 percent of all of the money spent by the advertising industry.

For many local advertisers, the newspaper is the only way to reach a significant portion of the community. Consumers seem to agree; about two-thirds of all adults say that newspaper advertising is their primary source of marketing and general shopping information.

In other words, newspapers are highly profitable organizations, and they remain the most likely source of jobs for those seeking entry into the field of journalism: Daily newspapers employ between 75,000 and 100,000 journalists at present, and the approximately 9,000 nondaily newspapers in the country employ many thousands more.

But most of the journalism practiced in America today does not occur in the big cities or the major newspaper newsrooms. American journalism, by and large, is the product of thousands of reporters, editors, photographers, artists and others who work for the small-town newspaper — about 85 percent of all of the newspapers in the nation have circulations of less than 50,000.

At the same time, community newspapers are basically general interest newspapers that typically publish lots of local news articles and feature stories.

That is the beauty of a community newspaper. Compared to huge national outlets, the community publication is able to not only inform the readers, but to relate to them, to experience the news as it’s happening and relay it to the readers in thought-provoking pieces they can’t find anywhere else: political events and personalities, business and finance, crime, severe weather, and natural disasters: health and medicine, science, and technology; sports; entertainment, society, food and cooking, clothing and home fashion and the arts.

Most traditional papers also feature an editorial page containing editorials written by an editor, op-eds written by guest writers and columns that express the personal opinions of columnists.

For hundreds of years, newspapers have provided and preserved detailed records of topics, people, institutions, issues and events. Consequently, newspaper archives remain among the most widely used resources in all kinds of libraries.

In brief, the purpose of the newspaper has always been to keep people informed of events around the world as well as those in our backyard — events that directly affect us and the rest of humanity on our planet.

In America, even when ownership resides elsewhere, the local broadsheet is owned by the hearts of the community. As long as that is the case, the newspaper is likely to survive on its own for many decades to come.

 

Top o’ the morning!

— Blankenship is a columnist for The Register-Herald. E-mail: jabbb@suddenlink.net

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