Newspapers are dying.
Thousands of newspapers have closed.
No one reads the newspapers anymore.
Only old people read newspapers.
Newspaper ad effectiveness is uncertain.
Newspaper ads underperform digital campaigns. They aren’t measurable.
There’s a lot of negative perceptions out there about newspapers. The thing is, they aren’t true.
Let’s start with the idea that newspapers are dying.
Poynter recently reported that a quarter of all newspapers in the United States have died in the last 15 years, leaving vast areas as news deserts, and the New York Times picked up on the research by the University of North Carolina for its own article and interactive map.
That list includes The Henning Advocate in northern Minnesota.
But look up the Advocate and you can see it is definitely still open and operating on Henning’s Main Street. What happened is that the Henning Advocate and Citizen Advocate merged.
It’s the same thing with the Fayette Leader in Iowa’s Fayette County. It merged into a county-wide publication, and the areas that have always been covered are still being covered.
The Oconto County Times-Herald in eastern Wisconsin is also still publishing after a merger.
During a seminar at the Tri-State Newspaper Convention on Feb. 5, Matt McMillan pointed out that in evaluating the health of newspapers, we also need to consider the health of the other businesses within these communities. In areas where newspapers have been shuttered, it is probably not just the newspapers that have left town. It’s also the Subway sandwich shops and hardware stores. How many still have a school district or independent police department?
“There’s something happening here that is a bigger thing,” observed McMillan. He has had the opportunity to see the business community firsthand after working in newspapers for 25 years. He currently serves on the state newspaper boards for Minnesota and North Dakota and the national America’s Newspapers Board of Directors, and works for a newspaper group that includes Press Publications, Northstar Media (my former employer), Kanabec Publications, Sentinel Publications and Printers & Publishers, Inc.
The closing of a few Twin Cities newspapers garnered attention this year, including City Pages (whose main revenue was in entertainment affected by COVID-19) and the Southwest Journal (whose long-time owners retired). But there are still 291 newspapers in Minnesota that are members of the Minnesota Newspaper Association, including the Longfellow Nokomis Messenger and the Midway Como Frogtown Monitor. Nationally, 2,941 of 3,141 counties are covered by a local newspaper - that’s a whopping 93.7%. What industry can say that?
More college papers are returning to print publications as Gen Z experiences screen fatigue and yearns for a product they can hold onto. So, no, newspapers aren’t only being read by the older generation.
“If you hear hedge funds are strangling the news industry and papers are dying every day, remember there is a third group of us who clearly see a bright future for newspapers. We are investing in the future, learning and growing, and we continue to produce news for people who depend on it.” So wrote Ryan Brinkley, the owner of four weeklies including the Anchorage Daily News, and Francis Wick, whose family owns 24 newspapers, in a recent op-ed.
“The basic value proposition still holds: people need to know what’s going on in their communities. They require credible, accurate and objective information that can inform their daily lives,” continued the duo.
“So when you hear from people that the newspaper business is dead, ask them where they got their information. The answer might be online, or on Facebook, or on their phone – but, chances are, that news was likely still produced by a newspaper.”
Local news really matters to people. As shown by the 2020 COVID-19 Societal Impact study by Whitman Insight Strategies Initiative and Creative Circle Media Solutions people are seeking authentic news sources. They trust local news media, including newspapers, much more than broadcast or television news sources and certainly more than social media or talk radio. In an environment where our former president tweeted 7% of the time about “fake news,” people trust their local news sources over national sources.
In fact, 82% of those surveyed said they trust local news.
When it comes to digital marketing, users trust the ads they see on reputable newspaper sites more than ads found elsewhere. They are 4x more likely to click through links on newspaper sites, according to News Media Canada. It cites new data from Totum Research - which also shows that ads in printed newspapers continue to be trusted more than any other traditional or digital format.
Google ads may be easy to set up and seem cheap, but only 26% of users trust them compared to 39% at news media web sites. The number drops to a trust rate of only 21% for social media networks like Facebook. Compare that to 52% for printed newspapers.
There’s also a ‘news trust halo’ – additional benefits from advertising in newspapers. An IAB study found that 84% of consumers feel advertising within news increases or maintains brand trust. Put simply, consumers like brands and businesses more that advertise in newspapers.
Classifieds have been hit hard since digital mediums like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace have sprang up. But a recently conducted Pulse of America survey of almost 7,000 newspaper readers proves that newspaper classifieds get results. They report that 75% of classified ads got results.
Now, you can say (accurately) that I’m pretty biased when it comes to newspapers. But surveys from quite a few sources back me up.
I love what local business owner Kendall Crosby of Kendall’s Ace Hardware has to say: “I believe in community newspapers and advertising locally. And advertising where I get results.”
Yep, I see a bright future ahead.