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     National Newspaper Week:  An annual observance to promote the importance of newspapers and journalism in the communities they serve. – S.D. Newspaper Association

When it comes to newspapers, I like the famous quote by Mark Twain: “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

In fact, readership for weekly newspapers remains robust and any decline can be mostly attributed to population loss in rural towns and counties, the stronghold of weeklies.

This is serious business, of course. Weekly newspapers, which have largely avoided the criticism leveled at large daily newspapers, broadcast media and the Internet for biased reporting, must have a sound economic footing in order to survive.

In South Dakota, this is directly tied to the health of small towns, where weeklies live alongside other businesses. When the Main Street is healthy, the weekly newspaper is strong. Where retail and service businesses have shrunk or shuttered, weekly newspapers have shared the pain.

Since this is National Newspaper Week, it’s the perfect time to have a conversation about the future of newspapers,.

Two conclusions seem obvious. First, larger newspapers – big city papers – will continue to slide.  Many are declining because their life support is under ferocious attack from the Internet. Those big department stores are downsizing or closing their doors, and classified advertising, the cash cow for decades, went south years ago with the advent of Craig’s List.

Two, many large dailies have accelerated their decline because they aren’t connecting with their readership base. They have lost their way, failing to understand the importance of local news even though that’s what their readers need and want to know. Consumers can get national and world news elsewhere, but who can provide local news if the newspaper does not?  Blogs are everywhere, but with a point of view. Google’s strength isn’t local news. Broadcast news is more limited in scope and less convenient.

The future looks better for small dailies, but they’ve also made costly mistakes. In an effort to try to become an Internet newspaper, they’ve siphoned resources from their newsrooms, which in turn has reduced local news coverage, their franchise. Little wonder their readership has declined.

The outlook from here? If smaller markets can hold their own economically, weeklies will continue to do well. Small dailies, if ownership would make a renewed commitment to local news fairly reported and well written, could recapture some ground it has lost.

Society’s need for information has not changed. People will buy a newspaper if it is reasonably priced, properly promoted, contains information they need and want, and has a reputation as a fair and creditable source.

Oct. 4, 2017