Community papers stay true to their roots
Community newspapers will survive because nobody else is going to tell the stories they do
In the many thousands of words that have been written about the collapse of Canadian daily newspapers, there is a parallel good news story that has been untold.
There are places in Canada in which newspaper circulation is actually stable or growing, and where reader loyalty is as strong as it has everr been. Places where people still pick up the paper and read it front to back to find out what’s going on in their community.
These places, as you might have guessed, are not Canada’s a’s mid-sized to large cities, where the spectacular decline ne of local print media has created an appalling news ws vacuum. Rather, it is in community newspapers pers that serve the hundreds of small towns that t form the heartland of the country.
It is no easy ride, but community newspapers pers enjoy relative stability in comparison to their ir bigger cousins. One Ontario paper I recently ntly encountered claims a circulation penetration tion rate of 89 per cent - meaning nine out of 10 households in its circulation area buy and d read the paper. Those kind of numbers were re seldom matched by daily newspapers evenn at the height of their popularity. staff. There are cases, in fact, in which the only reporter left at a “local” paper doesn’t even live in the community the paper represents.
This is a fatal tactic - especially in communities where the personal connection is everything. In the little Southern Ontario town of Petrolia, for example, the community was so disgusted by what has happened to its local paper under company ownership that local advertisers supported the emergence an independent competitor. When a corporate paper puts virtually nothing into a community (and yet expects to take our profitsp throughg advertisingg revenue), it’s not reallyy that hard to prop vide a better product.
All of this is not to say small papers have an easy rid ride. This past weekend, publishers, editors and busine business managers from Ontario’s community papers gather gathered in Toronto for its annual conference. They spoke of the many worries that cloud the crystal ball: o ongoing trouble attracting national advertise advertisers, the difficulty in retaining talented young st staff who get richer offers from bigger markets,marke and adapting to the digital age in which a solid web presence and social media str strategy are an essential part of the mix.
There will be papers, no doubt, th that will give up the fight and fold, as some have.ha Yet for those who stay, strive to adapt a and keep their eye on the ball, it’s hard to imagineimagi a future without a community newspaper in