Print Media is Alive, But Invisible

Digital Journal, May 7, 2009.

Hardly a day goes by when one doesn’t read about the demise of a giant metro daily. Even fake news is facing the guillotine now. Gawker reports that The Onion will cease publication of its Los Angeles and San Francisco print editions.

Sure, there’s no denying that newspapers are an endangered species today.

The expanding universe of non-traditional news sources—blogs, YouTube, citizen journalist-powered Web sites, and social networks—have pushed newspapers to the fringes of our existence.

One of the predictions that French writer Jacques Attali makes in his new book, “A Brief History of the Future: A Brave and Controversial Look at the Twenty-First Century,” is that the future of journalism would be paperless.

But that may be too far-fetched an idea. There will be papers.

And by that, I don’t mean the reams of papers that are regurgitated round-the-clock, with metronomic regularity, by armies of printers around the world.

I’m speaking of newspapers. Yes, news in print.

While the new media doesn’t miss an opportunity to bring to attention the demise (or imminent closure) of heavy hitters—the national newspapers—it completely fails to report on the comparative well-being of their lesser-known suburban brethren.

As every journalist knows, there are always two sides to a story. In the said case, it’s the sunny side of the trade that’s not receiving much, or any publicity.

Many community dailies and weeklies are actually, growing.

Elauwit Media, a community media company, based in Haddonfield, New Jersey, is among South Jersey’s 10 fastest growing privately-held companies.

In an article in the Christian Science Monitor, its founders Dan McDonough Jr. and Alan Bauer write: “We’ve gone from a start-up in 2004 with $100,000 in revenue to a thriving company with revenues in excess of $2.4 million in 2008.”

Just a couple of years ago, in September 2007, a former colleague of mine, took the risk of launching his own newspaper in a very challenging market—in Westchester County, New York. Fortunately, the gamble paid off.

From a humble beginning, with a circulation of 2,000 a week, The Examiner has grown by leaps and bounds. Not only has the readership risen in terms of sheer numbers, but it’s also spread its geographical reach.

A lot of its success is owed to the absence of too many long-standing veteran weeklies in the area of its coverage.

Business is crawling, just about everywhere.

But community papers have been far less affected by the economic slump than their big-city counterparts, according to data collected by Suburban Newspapers of America and National Newspaper Association from the fourth quarter of 2008.

Where ad revenue has dried up by as much as 21 percent across the industry, it’s declined by less than seven percent in the case of suburban newspapers during the same period.

In January, 1750, New-York Gazette publisher James Parker wrote:

“This Taste, we Englishmen, have for News, is a very odd one; yet it must be fed; and tho’ it seems to be a jest to Foreigners, yet it is an Amusement we can’t be with out.”

259 years later, that “taste for news” remains as strong as ever. The appetite for “local” news has only gotten bigger.

The urge to know about the machinations of one’s elected official or the appointment of a new school superintendent or the denial of a building permit in one’s backyard is so strong that one simply can’t help but grab a copy of the local paper.

It’s precisely because “Small News is Big News” (which is The Examiner’s punch line) that these operations will have a greater longevity.

We’re unlikely to throw away that which we need, right?

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