Will there be a daily newspaper in your future?

Thoughts from Behind the Pressline

That question has been asked, not only in this country, but around the world, in the past few years. In New Orleans, Birmingham, Mobile and Huntsville the discussion has taken center stage with the announcement that this fall they will cease publishing a daily print product and will instead be switching to an online publication, with a print product only 3 times per week.

The situation in the above named communities is important to watch. For one, the ownership is the same as The Cleveland Plain Dealer, where reportedly there were meetings recently to quell concerns there. But in general, the daily newspaper revenue-model dilemma is happening across America, including here in the North Country. In Canada similar moves are taking place in Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa. Newspapers are not going to become extinct, but they are facing the types of challenges they’ve been unaccustomed with dealing.

Toward the end of the last century, daily newspapers enjoyed healthy bottom lines and became popular investment opportunities. Unfortunately, their primary mission was not so much with an eye on future technology investments and research as it was on maximizing the bottom line. They must now face the realization that there is no easy fix that will allow them to maintain their profit margins and at the same time reclaim the lofty status they once enjoyed.

Many daily newspapers blame the downfall on people reading their news online for free while dropping their paid subscription. The revenue model they have been accustomed to operating under was based on 80 percent adverting revenues and 20 percent circulation revenues. As paid subscriptions continue to drop, advertising revenues were affected. In 2005, daily newspapers registered $47 billion in ad revenues and by 2010 they were down to $22.8 billion.

While the dailies try to reposition themselves with paywalls, reduced print days, outsourcing certain tasks while trimming staff and news coverage, not all types of newspapers have abandoned their true mission. About 45 minutes from Asheville, in Yancey County, North Carolina, where the population is less than 18,000, the Yancey County News won two major journalism awards in 2011, its first year of publishing—the E.W. Scripps Award for Distinguished Service to the First Amendment and the Ancil Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism. The Yancey County News is a weekly, available online for free as well as in print, with a circulation of 1,200 copies and a masthead that lists only two people as staff—husband and wife Jonathan and Susan Austin.

Dan Alexander is publisher and CEO of Denton Publications. He may be reached at dan@denpubs.com

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