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Hometown News

Written by Dick Pryor on Friday June 25, 2010

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Across the United States, newspaper readership is dropping.  Newspapers have lost 16.9% in circulation in the last three years and 25.6% since 2000.  According to research from the Poynter Institute, newspaper advertising revenue has fallen 43% over the last three years and newsrooms have shrunk 25%.  Newspapers have devoted $1.6 billion less annually to news than they did three years earlier.  Several major newspapers have either closed or gone into bankruptcy in the last few years.

It's a disturbing trend for the print journalism industry and the people who rely on newspapers for their news and information.  But, the problems do not extend across-the-board:  major metropolitan dailies are the hardest hit; small market newspapers have fared better over the same period. 

Why is that happening?  That's one of the questions discussed during this week's Oklahoma Forum program by our guests:  Rusty Ferguson, Publisher of The Cleveland American, Hominy News-Progress and Pawnee Chief; Gloria Trotter, Co-Publisher of The Countywide & Sun; Jeff Mayo, Associate Publisher of the Sequoyah County Times and Publisher of the Vian Tenkiller News, Eastern Times-Register, Indian Journal, and McIntosh County Democrat; and Dayva Spitzer, Publisher of the Sayre Record & Beckham County Democrat.  Each is a member of the Board of Directors of the Oklahoma Press Association, and Gloria Trotter is the 2009-2010 OPA President.

To be sure, small-town newspapers are not rolling in dough; nobody's getting rich.  But, community newspapers that provide local news are holding their own and positioning for the future.  Rusty Ferguson, whose family has published The Cleveland American since 1931, says that newspapers connect the people in a community with news that matters to each citizen and provides cradle-to-grave documentation of the events that define people's lives.  Gloria Trotter called it "scrapbook journalism."

Oklahoma has 199 "legal" newspapers, with 39 dailies and 160 weeklies.  That doesn't count some of the special interest publications that serve a particular "niche."  Many of the newspapers, including those published by our guests, are operated by families, as opposed to larger media groups.  Jeff Mayo said local, and often family ownership is critical to the success of small market newspapers, because of the connection, and interest, in the community.  He and Dayva Spitzer agreed that small staffs make it difficult to cover everything that needs to be covered, but information from "citizen journalists" helps immensely.  (In an earlier day and time these people were called "sources.") Trotter said technology, including digital photography and e-mailing, has given community newspapers welcome, additional sources for news content.

One of the questions we addressed is difficult to answer:  Should newspapers put content behind an online "pay wall" that requires readers to pay for news from a website?  It's a question that's being hotly-debated in the industry, and one with no easy answer.  What do you think?  Do you read a "community" newspaper?  Would you pay for on-line content?  Do you want "traditional" news content, or would you also like video?

Join our discussion here, by posting your comments.  We'd like to hear from you.  Thanks for watching.

Until next time,

Dick Pryor

(Pictured above, left to right:  Host Dick Pryor, Gloria Trotter, Jeff Mayo, Dayva Spitzer, Rusty Ferguson) 

 


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