PUBLISHER'S NOTEBOOK: '60 Minutes' misses the larger story about newspapers
Tuesday, January 15, 2013 3:59 AM
A couple weeks ago, the television show "60 Minutes" had a piece on the newspaper industry. Actually, it was on the Times-Picayune in New Orleans going from daily publication to three days a week, but Morley Safer extrapolated the conditions for that newspaper to all newspapers, referring to the conglomerate as "virtually an entire industry in free-fall."
However, taking one example, or a few examples as there are other daily newspapers with problems, and condemning an entire industry to death is a big leap. After all, those of us at this newspaper don't feel that we are in a "free-fall."
Kevin Slimp, a news guru who helps the industry with design questions, immediately did what Safer and the "60 Minutes" staff should have done. He contacted Carl Redman, the executive editor of The Advocate, a new New Orleans daily paper started by a newspaper company in Baton Rouge that jumped in to fill the void left by the Times-Picayune.
He told Slimp that they had hoped for a circulation of 10,000 by February. Instead, more than 10,000 subscribed to the newspaper within a week and the numbers continue to build.
Slimp added that the condemnation is even harder to understand after reading a story in News & Tech that six of eight publicly traded newspaper companies showed increases in their stock prices in 2012. Not small increases, he noted, but double-digit increases.
Of course, not all is rosy with large metro newspapers, but the industry is much more than those few newspapers. Take a look at these statistics about the U.S. newspaper industry extrapolated from research conducted a few years ago by Jock Lauterer at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.
"Big dailies" (dailies with circulation above 50,000) make up less than 5 percent of all newspapers in the U.S.
"Weeklies" dominate the industry, with about 85 percent of all newspapers being in the "non-daily" category.
The average U.S. newspaper is a weekly with a circulation of about 7,500, not a "big-city daily."
"Small" newspapers in the U.S. account for roughly 75 percent of total print circulation of all U.S. Newspapers.
Why does that matter? Although it doesn't make for good television, small, community papers are a good investment as they remain strong with their readers. One of the most respected investors of all time knows that as Warren Buffett, who purchased his hometown paper, the Omaha World Herald, in 2011, more recently invested millions in the Media General newspaper chain.
The more than 60 newspapers in this chain are located in smaller cities, an important distinction to Buffett, who has no interest in the prestige metro newspapers.
"In towns and cities where there is a strong sense of community, there is no more important institution than the local paper," Buffett said in a statement at the time of the acquisition. "The many locales serviced by the newspapers we are acquiring fall firmly in this mold, and we are delighted they have found a permanent home with Berkshire Hathaway."
He added that he thinks the newspapers will be a solid investment for decades, and they will remain in print form for at least 10 to 20 years.
In fact, Buffett told a Newsweek reporter that he doesn't at all like the decision by some daily newspapers to retreat by publishing just three days a week.
"This three-day-a-week stuff really kills you. You want people who look at you every day...Once people get used to online, I don't think they come back."
And, he emphasizes that the newspapers where there is a strong sense of community are the ones that will thrive. People want to know about their community and they turn to their local newspapers for that connection.
Of course, Slimp says that doesn't guarantee survival. And, being a large newspaper doesn't guarantee demise.
Slimp points to the Orange County Register in California, one of the 20 largest newspapers in the country. The publication has made massive increases in writers and editors for what its executive has labeled America's "largest community newspaper."
Big or small, newspapers that invest in the future will thrive, says Slimp.
And, as Buffett notes, they must connect with the community.
The aim at this newspaper is both - connecting to the community and investing in the future - because, after all, we want to be a part of your lives for a long, long time.