Has the internet hurt newspapers?

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That is a question that I get a lot. Frequently it is not even a question. People will say something along the lines of, “Wow, you guys must really be reeling from all the business you’re losing to the internet.”

Sometimes they’ll just say, “Wow, sorry you’re in the newspaper business.”

I usually just look at them, smile a bit and then explain that yes, the large daily newspapers are in trouble, but the medium and small-sized community newspapers, in most cases, are not only doing well, but may have a very bright future.

Often they will be skeptical, but it’s true all the same.

It is such as shame that newspapers have received such bad press. Ironic, isn’t it?

So, what is going on here – from an “insider’s” viewpoint?

I’ll give it a shot. “Content” is really the key, and the “business model” is the second part of the equation.

The short “content” version is that generally speaking, the local content that the smaller community newspapers write is not readily available online as a cohesive, easily-digested package that is vetted, reliable and well-organized.

Yes, a lot of local content is online, but you have to search for it or receive it from RSS feeds in bits and pieces from the search engines.

By contrast, much of the content in the larger daily newspapers is national news and national sports, which are easily found online.

Usually the large dailies have a local section, but as with the case of the AJC today, their “local” means “above the river” or “inside the perimeter”… or worse.

It is neither very local nor very deep. So there is not a lot of “ownership” by readers.

On the “business model” side of the equation again, the large daily papers have been absolutely hammered. Classified – including help-wanted and real estate - was about 35 percent of total revenue.

That’s gone.

Circulation was another say 15 to 20 percent of revenue, and much of that is gone because the content that readers want is now more available elsewhere.

Automotive and department store advertising have fallen drastically from prior levels – at least, my guess, – 50 percent or more.

The last column that is holding up the foundation of the large daily newspapers is all those flyers and sales magazines that are inserted into the Sunday papers.

This is what is keeping many of the large dailies afloat.

This business competes with the post office. And fortunately for the newspapers, the postal rates continue to go through the roof.

A large percentage of circulation for the smaller newspapers is free, so there have been no significant “hits” on circulation like there have been in the large daily papers.

The department store and automotive advertising have never been a large component of our advertising base, and we never relied on classified advertising to the degree that the large dailies have relied on it.

To a large degree, the community newspapers have not suffered in the critical areas that the large daily newspapers have suffered.

In his letter to the publishers of the newspapers that his company Berkshire Hathaway recently purchased, Warren Buffet stated that he has confidence in the value and the future of newspapers in this country – especially the medium and smaller papers. He said that the only time American newspapers fail is when one or more of the following factors were present:

1. The town or city had two or more competing dailies; 2.The paper lost its position as the primary source of information important to its readers; or 3. The town or city did not have a pervasive self-identity.

Meaningful content and connectedness to the community that is connected and has a soul is what the future of newspapering is all about.

The demand for what we do is not diminishing. In fact, it is probably doing just the opposite: it is growing.

And you can help that happen by telling merchants that you saw their ads in our newspapers and that if they want to reach the community, that the community’s newspaper is the way to do it.