“Are you winning?” the elderly man asked, his casino player’s membership card dangling around his neck.
“No,” I replied, hitting the button marked L. “I’m in town for work.” I half laughed, knowing how much I don’t like to gamble.
“What kind of work?” he asked as the elevator lights dinged, while we dropped through the floors of the hotel toward the casino.
“Newspaper,” I said.
He looked at me like he’d seen a ghost. “Newspapers are dead… Aren’t they?”
This was one of several elevator conversations I’ve had over the past three weeks. I admit to baiting people into conversation, just to see what their reaction would be if they found out my line of work – an informal poll. I’ve been on the road to Chandler for the Arizona Newspaper Association convention, then to Milwaukee for the National Newspaper Association convention, and then to Bullhead City for the Brehm Communications Inc. annual meeting. (BCI is the parent company of The Wickenburg Sun.)
In my travels, I’ve had time to focus on what exactly newspapers do, and how long we will keep doing it.
The truth is, a lot of people would like to think newspapers are dead – especially criticized are papers in metropolitan areas and those with national readership. Politicians are weary of reporters sitting in hearings where no other member of the public exists. Curiously, sometimes lawmakers do things like enact policy to hurt newspapers, such as new taxes on the products we require in order to bring you the news (newsprint, petroleum or ink for instance), or they make changes to the postal regulations.
Some legislators and local governments in every state continue to rally against the standard requirement to run public notices, such as budgets and new ordinances, in print. When those notices go away, it hurts our bottom line, and it also takes away traditional government transparency. Some lawmakers threaten to take away the public’s right to attend some meetings involving public money and business.
Without saying much about it, newspaper publishers and associations have been pushing back against these threats on the state and national level. Just last year the NNA was successful in fighting a newsprint tariff which would have crippled the industry, especially smaller operations. And, we’ve been fighting for the public’s right to know and will continue to do so, all over the nation.
At the same time, many newspapers have been fighting to stay afloat. We’ve all had to restructure our operations. It has been frightening to watch the giants fall around us, but across the country community newspapers are still rolling along. And they will continue to do so.
Tenacity is the key to longevity, and we are a tenacious bunch. Come storms, fires or high water, we continue to put out a paper every week – week after week, month after month, year after year.
Why is that?
First, what the public sees or imagines to be true – newspapers are all owned by media giants – really doesn’t hold true throughout the community newspaper level. A surprising number of papers in smaller towns are owned and operated by families, or family-owned companies. We are invested in our communities.
Second, people still believe community newspapers are the best source of reliable information. A recent poll conducted by Susquehanna Polling and Research for the National Newspaper Association revealed that while the public is wary of media in general, when it comes time to make informed decisions (such as for whom to vote) community newspapers are at the top of the list. Social media is at the bottom of the list, with radio, television and mailings falling in the middle ground.
Third, the fact that social media is hardly registering on the scale shines a light on some changes in the wind. For close to a decade, we’ve watched and wondered how much of a lasting impact the internet and social media would have on the newspaper industry. It appears the honeymoon is over between Americans and their electronic devices. While we do rely on them, we are tired of them and the daily demands they put on us.
It’s been interesting to watch our list of subscribers to The Sun slowly but steadily increase over the past year – and most want the printed version. Advertisers who went away to try their luck with websites and other methods are coming back to print, simply because when people plan to make a decision, such as voting, applying for a job, or buying large items such as a car or furniture, they trust the paper. The printed word.
Community newspapers are not dead, and we are not dying. We are not gambling on the future. We are working every day to ensure our future and protect yours. We are continuing to do good work to defend the public’s right to know and bring you reliable news you can actually trust, every day, all across America.
Thank you for reading. You’re the reason we are still here, cranking out the printed word (and you can view it online too, if that’s your thing).
See you next week.