Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Will smaller weekly papers save the industry?

Two recent clippings came to my attention that pose an interesting premise: smaller weekly papers with local community news might survive better than larger dailies that rely more on wire and syndication material.

In the April 3, 2006 edition of The New Yorker, James Surowiecki wrote a piece on the newspaper crisis (lower readership and advertising is threatening the health of the industry).

"...newspapers remain a surprisingly robust industry and generate tremendous amounts of cash every year. Most of them have profit margins that dwarf those of the average company...the reach of newspapers remain huge. Daily circulation is around $51 million (not including online readers) giving the industry more customers than any other traditional media outlet."

Surowiecki blames Wall Street jitters as part of the reason that newspapers are seen in the same light as the ice man: a relic of the past.

Here's a key part of his piece: "For most newspapers [to play to their strengths], this will mean abandoning things that are ubiquitous on the Internet, like stock tables and wire stores, and investing in content they can own, like serious local coverage and in-depth reporting."

The other piece was a May 16th story from the Boston Globe's web site ( the Globe has seen considerable lay-offs in its news staff) about a company called Gatehouse Media spending $400 million to buy up 124 smaller papers in the Boston. The company believes that the smaller community paper can deliver "a highly targeted audience."

It's all about content, local content and many dailies do not seem to be able or willing to invest in it as they once did.

what I've seen succeed in my area is giving people content they are not getting from the television stations that promise local news and deliver almost everything but local news; radios stations that have walked away from local content with the exception of a morning show; and dailies that stretch their local content so much that people in one area are forced to read stories from an area that means nothing to them.

Local. Local. Local. That's my mantra. What's yours?

© 2006 by Gordon Michael Dobbs. A gentle reminder: nothing I write here reflects the opinions of my employers, my staff, our advertisers or anyone but me.


At 7:34 AM, Blogger Josh Shear said...

to compete in today's media market, newspapers – both daily and weekly – are going to have to learn their niches.

daily newspapers have to realize they are not going to break much news in the paper. if television and radio don't beat them to it, someone on the internet will. they need to move anything they have that's exclusive even just for five minutes to the web.

then they need to use their next morning's paper to do pieces that are more in-depth than anything television or radio did the night before.

as for wire stories, well, they're also important, and easy to miss online – papers still need to run them, but probably not as prominently, and certainly not as many.

as for weeklies, they have the distinct advantage of being able to go hyper-local and insanely in-depth. for every 2-minute television piece (which makes it reasonably in-depth), a daily paper might do a good 1,000-word piece, and a weekly can do 2,500 words. for a 5-minute tv piece (which almost never happens on a local news show unless the story is huge), a daily paper might have 2,500 words the next day, and a weekly can easily top 5,000 words discussing the ramifications of all facets of the story.

further, weeklies can thrive on more useful information than dailies – like arts, entertainment and other events listings. by putting what you can in the paper and adding a searchable database online, you become the primary resource for that content.

ok, done babbling for now.


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