Strength in Weekness
Eric Alterman’s gloomy analysis of the newspaper industry’s current problems is on target, except for one major flaw: He includes only daily publications under the heading of “the newspaper industry” [“Paper Rout,” July 18/25]. But that’s no more than 1,500 dailies, of all sizes, and accounts for only about 45 percent of US newspapers’ total circulation of some 87.5 million.
The daily-newspaper industry is indeed in trouble, with steady declines in both circulation and the number of individual publications. But considering only daily publications ignores the 6,000-plus less-frequent US papers, most of which are weeklies. Their focus differs vastly from the dailies’ focus, and their economic outlook and circulation are healthier, because they’re the only consistent source of coverage for their communities.
Dailies focus on major news developments in the cities where they’re published, and, in these days of shrinking staffs and diminishing space for news, few have the resources or the interest to report regularly on life in smaller communities. Unless something sensational happens, dailies tend to ignore such communities. The same goes for TV news.
Community weeklies focus almost exclusively on life in those small areas. They are read thoroughly by many—perhaps most—residents. They’re the only place to find reporting that provides an overall picture of the community, as well as in-depth coverage of how public and private institutions are functioning, and what developments are likely to affect people down the line.
With local readers, of course, comes local advertising and a more sustainable business model than many metro dailies can devise these days. Advertisers prefer to reach their potential customers through the local weekly, which they can do far less expensively than through metropolitan dailies, whose ad rates are much higher because the papers reach many more people, most of whom are irrelevant to advertisers in Smalltown USA. Also, ads are much more likely to be seen, and read, in the local weekly.
All of this is worth keeping in mind the next time you hear that “the newspaper industry” is about to implode.