It’s become a familiar tale: Newspapers are on the wane. Circulation is down as readers forsake print for digital media. People are turning to Facebook and Twitter to learn what’s going on.
It’s a familiar tale, except for one problem: It’s not always true.
Despite the steady circulation declines experienced by some of the nation’s largest metropolitan newspapers, many community papers are actually doing quite well.
On Oct. 4, the Transcript-Bulletin published its annual, federally mandated statement of ownership, showing that overall circulation had increased by 9 percent from 2010 to 2011, and total paid distribution was up 9.9 percent over the same period. In fact, the Transcript’s total print circulation is higher now than it was five years ago.
So much for the idea that print isn’t attractive to news consumers anymore.
The success of community newspapers is a story that’s not often told, despite the fact that it’s taking place in smaller towns across rural America. According to a National Newspaper Association survey conducted last year, 73 percent of the population in smaller communities read a local newspaper weekly. They spend more time reading their local paper (37.5 minutes) and share it with more people (3.34 per issue) than do readers of larger metropolitan papers.
That might be because people who live in small towns often enjoy the traditional pleasure of perusing through their local paper. They’re well aware of the cacophony of choices that await them on the Internet or television, yet they choose to spend their leisure time listening to a softer, more trusted voice. They want to read about elections, education, crime, business and high school sports from a local perspective.
Another reason small-town papers do well is in-depth reporting and long-form features, both of which appeal to readers much more than Internet browsers. In the past few weeks, several Wasatch Front media outlets have picked up stories about local issues such as compensation paid to Tooele City’s economic development advisor and the Tooele and Stansbury Junior Jazz basketball program being shut out of local schools for failing to pay past debts. Those were stories first reported in the Transcript-Bulletin. Compare those original stories to subsequent reports and I think you’ll find our local coverage of events much more detailed and contextual.
Even as we recognize the abiding value of a printed newspaper to the majority of our readers, we also understand the broad reach the Internet gives news organizations. Approximately, 6,000 readers have read the stories mentioned above on our website, and each day for the past year the site has attracted 1,345 visitors on average, according to data from Google Analytics.
The print edition of the Transcript reaches into approximately 50 percent of the homes in the Tooele Valley, and our website expands that reach for some selected content. That market penetration is significantly higher than that of most metro papers and hasn’t changed much over the years, illustrating that newcomers as well as long-time residents understand the value of reading their local newspaper.
So next time somebody tries to tell you the familiar tale of newspapers on the wane, take it with a grain of salt. Printed news is not a thing of the past in many smaller communities like ours. It’s a tradition that continues to enrich all our lives.