Local Newspaper Justifies Relevance

The following is a reprint of an editorial run in the June 1st issue of the New Bern Sun Journal which at the time of this post was unavailable online.  On June 1st, the Sun Journal introduced its’ new format: a smaller size with fewer pages, and approximately the same number of ads.

Newspaper for a new day, with many days ahead

More comfortable telling a story, newspapers have found themselves of late in the sometimes uncomfortable position of being the story.

The usual narrative, especially as reported in the electronic media, suggests that readers’ reliance on the Internet and economic pressures related to the recession have pushed newspapers to the edge of financial disaster. But here’s the view from the inside: Forward-thinking newspapers — and we like to number the Sun Journal among them — stand not on the edge of disaster but on the edge of a new day.

We submit that this edition of the Sun Journal, the debut of a dramatically new format better suited to the pace of modern life, helps make that point. At the same time that we believe newspapers must become news providers, serving readers and advertisers across multiple platforms, we also believe in the future of this product we call ink-on-paper. This new newspaper represents an investment in that future and a commitment to readers who share that belief, as well as those who may come to share it.

The paper you’re holding was made possible by the installation of a new $2 million press at a consolidated printing plan owned by Freedom ENC Communications, the regional media group to which the Sun Journal belongs. As of Sunday night, Freedom ENC began prininig all its publications at this plant in Jacksonville. That change brings with it some business benefits, but it also allows us to produce the best looking, most colorful, most reader-friendly Sun Journal ever.

And “ever” is a long time for a company with roots to 1876. As with many newspapers, tradition is a touchstone at the Sun Journal, and tradition informs our view of the future. In essence, we know enough to trad on our strengths — our knowledge of the community, our ability to gather and disseminate news and information for and about it, our ability to produce an advertising message that resonates with consumers.

These strengths mean newspapers still have value for people who want to be well informed. For many, they remain an essential part of daily life, even as life seems to change daily. Some statistics compiled by the Newspaper Association of America belie the doom-and-gloom predictions that might lead readers to think otherwise.

For instance, more than 104 million adults read a print newspaper every day and more than 115 million on Sunday. The typical audience for TV’s late local news: 65 million.

Average weekday newspaper readership declined a scant 1.8 percent between 2007 and 2008. That compares well to the 10 percent decline seen in the primetime TV audience in 2007.

In an average week, 61 percent of 18-24 year olds and 25-34 year olds read a newspaper. Sixty-five percent of them read a newspaper or visited a newspaper Web site in the past week.

Nothing in those numbers invites complacency, of course, but the Sun Journal has not lasted for 130 years by refusing to adapt, by failing to recognize opportunities. It has evolved from a weekly newspaper printed on a sheet smaller than this to the broad black-and-white edition that our older readers grew up with to the lively paper you read today.

This then is a newspaper for a new day, brought to you by a newspaper company that, with the continued support of its readers and advertisers, has many days ahead of it.

To me this reaks of an industry trying to maintain relevance in a media landscape leaving them behind.  This feeling is partially related to the fact that I now pay the same price for less news, more ads (by percentage of page), and sadly, text that is far less clear (at least in this first edition).  Honestly, I think I read the newspaper an average of 1 per week, being one of those who prefers to get my news from the Internet.  The local paper however does provide that “local flavor” of the news that is often hard to track online. In light of Clay Shirky’s post about Thinking the Unthinkable I feel like our local paper is grasping at straws to remain relevant.

I would love to hear your comments, or see you Diigo up the reprint of the article above.

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