Home' Local Media Today : May 2009 Contents 18
By John Rung
Publisher of the Northwest Herald and Chief
Operating Officer of Shaw Suburban Media in
Crystal Lake, IL
Like most years, I followed this year’s
Chicago Bears draft with great interest. With
their first pick (in round No. 3) the Bears
selected Jarron Gilbert, a defensive lineman
from San Jose State. Gilbert’s father also
played in the NFL. A reporter asked Gilbert
what advice his father had given him. He
responded that his dad’s favorite saying is,
“Things are never as bad as they seem, or as
good as they seem.”
Certainly, if we believe the talking heads and the journalists who cover the newspaper industry, things
right now seem very bad.
It would be difficult for those who know me to categorize me as an “ink-stained dinosaur.” I believe we
are in the media business and print is just one platform we use to communicate. But regardless of my
preferences or beliefs, many people still greatly value the print experience.
Which got me to thinking. Should we simply believe the talking heads? In a recent discussion with the
head of a large TV station, I learned that sales at his station are down 40%. That figure dwarfs the losses
experienced by most newspapers. Why haven’t we heard more about the declines in TV and radio
And as long as we’re asking questions, do we know with any certainty that newspaper circulation losses
are directly related to increased Internet usage? It’s an easy assumption to make, but “can get news on
the Internet for free” has not been, and is still not, one of the top five reasons for subscription cancella-
tion, and least not in our company. And what about the impressive audience we have developed online?
Surely, that audience can provide tremendous value to our advertisers.
So, let’s imagine for a minute: What if things aren’t as bad as they seem? What if, as they say, there is
more to the story?
What if ...
Reading a printed newspaper and accessing information on a computer or mobile phone were
absolutely different experiences?
In terms of consumer behavior, the latter really did not impact the former as much as people generally
Newspaper circulation declines have less to do with the advent of the Internet and a lot more to do
with a continuation of trends seen since (at least) the 1970s?
The most recent accelerated circulation declines have occurred, in part, because newspapers are not
spending nearly as much on marketing and reader acquisition?
Newspaper revenue was down about the same percentage as mainstream TV and radio revenue, and
community papers were doing better than TV and radio?
The recent bankruptcies and failures of certain newspapers had more to do with debt load, market
position and the economy, and less to do with the Internet?
The lion’s share of revenue lost to the Internet came from categories that were never a primary source
of revenue for community papers?
In the future, our print product serves a narrower audience and no longer can be all things to all people?
Our penetration in print is reduced, but still captures a large audience that is desired by many
The digital challenge for newspapers can be summed up by the following two sentences: When people
are looking for news in their local market, they go to our Web sites. When they want to spend money,
they go somewhere else?
A better online consumer/advertiser connection would cure a lot of ills for community newspapers?
A relevant print product is going to be a part of our future for quite some time, but more and more
revenue needs to come from digital offerings?
Our markets are still ours for the taking?
Often times, when “everyone” assumes something, that something proves to be dead wrong. Historical
odds would support the wisdom expressed by Mr. Gilbert; things are likely not as bad as they seem.
Suppose for a moment that at least some of these “what if” scenarios have a basis in reality. What then?
The answer, then, is that we have a lot of work to do. The answer is that we cannot give up. The answer
is that our best days are ahead, if we are willing to try, fail, and try again without ever losing faith in our
ability to perform a vital function for our community.
It is exciting to be involved in a crucial turning point for such a prestigious industry. The work we do
today can have a tremendous impact on the future of our communities and our industry. We must
embrace the fact that we are a communications medium and not a print medium. We must do more than
“hang in there.” We must believe we can make a difference and we must be willing to work hard to
And if we do that, you can bet that things will seem much better.
he loyalty and buying
power of community news-
paper readers are among the
attributes that continue to be rec-
ognized by advertisers and
investors, and most recently by a
story in the April 28, 2009 edition
of The Wall Street Journal.
The story confirmed many facts
about smaller market papers that
industry insiders have long recog-
nized. Specifically, that one of the
many attractions of smaller papers
is their intense local focus and
community connections, which
continue to generate solid returns
for advertisers and smaller market
Newspaper industry leaders
echoed the findings in the finan-
cial publication's story.
"Newspapers are too often painted
with a broad brush, and it's nice to
see The Wall Street Journal
acknowledge the realities and
diversification of our industry,"
said Gareth Charter, publisher of
six weekly newspapers in
Massachusetts. "Of course, we are
affected by the economy, but com-
munity publishing has a very
bright future. We purchased a 21-
year-old weekly in May 2007 and
grew its revenue 30% the first
year. It's up another 19% through
(the first quarter) of this year."
The Wall Street Journal article
focused on three newspaper exec-
utives who recently purchased or
are in the process of purchasing
Advertising revenue has remained
relatively consistent for many
smaller papers, a significant and
noteworthy explanation for why
community newspapers are contin-
uing to draw advertiser and
This story in The Wall Street
Journal underscores a message
spread by Suburban Newspapers
of America (SNA), an industry
trade association representing
more than 2,000 suburban and
"Community papers, with their
hyper-local coverage and 'news
you can't get anywhere else'
advantage, remain the bright spot
in the industry," said Nancy Lane,
president of SNA. "While commu-
nity papers are also impacted by
the economy, it is often to a much
lesser degree than our larger coun-
terparts. And even though the
effects of the economy have car-
ried over into the first quarter of
2009, community papers and their
related Web sites are in a better
position to take advantage of new
and bold opportunities, many of
which involve shifting dollars
from major and national advertis-
Indeed, according to Lane,
LocalPoint Media, the SNA-affili-
ated national advertising network
launched in late 2007 to represent
the community segment of the
industry, has attracted several new
advertisers in 2009 such as
ExxonMobil, USAirways, New
York Life, Pedigree Dog Food and
others that have not traditionally
used community media. Just last
week, a national restaurant chain
purchased an extensive online-
only buy using community news-
paper Web sites. LocalPoint Media
will be announcing other initia-
tives in the coming weeks that will
provide tremendous new revenue
opportunities for community
papers and their related Web sites.
According to The Wall Street
Journal, purchasers of the local
newspapers also cited greater con-
sistency of classified ad revenue
and a loyal, local advertising base
as reasons for investing in com-
Quarterly financial surveys con-
ducted jointly by SNA and the
National Newspaper Association
(NNA) support this belief. Based
on four quarters of survey results,
overall advertising revenue for the
participating suburban and com-
munity newspapers declined an
estimated 3.6% for the full year
2008 versus a decline of 16.6%
percent for the industry in general
as reported by the Newspaper
Association of America (NAA).
SNA/NNA financial data is based
on responses to quarterly surveys
from publishers of hundreds of
daily and weekly community
newspapers in the United States
and Canada, mostly large weekly
groups and dailies under 50,000
circulation, representing nearly $2
billion in annual revenue and more
than 10 million circulation in each
quarterly voluntary reporting
Wall Street Journal
Recognizes Strength of
John Rung, left, interacts with Tom Shaw, President and
CEO of Shaw Suburban Media, at an SNA conference.
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