The keynote speaker at last weekend’s Arizona Newspapers Association conference was Kevin Slimp, a consultant known in the industry as the News Guru.
Slimp’s notoriety outside the newspaper world was his creation of the Portable Document Format file. The innovative pdf made it possible for the newspapers Slimp worked for to electronically transfer documents from one site to another for color printing. Twenty years later, Slimp’s pdfs are a standard format throughout the world, used in thousands of different ways including court and legal documents, page proofs, graphic designs, architectural plans as well as still serving as the primary means by which newspapers transmit pages to their presses.
Slimp is consulted by newspapers to redesign their organizations or simply offer advice on how to survive in the industry and improve the news product they provide to their readers.
Most small newspaper publishers who call him in see the national narrative that “print is dead” and “newspapers are dying” and ask how to avoid that fate.
However, when Slimp asks about their individual newspapers, nearly all report that their operations are seeing record numbers of advertising revenue, higher page counts, increases in circulation and online traffic, more staff, more readers and an increasing number of supplemental sections.
According to Slimp, there are two print journalism worlds: The big national newspaper chains and the small, hyper-local community newspapers. The two worlds are certainly related, but should not be compared.
- Only about 20 percent of American newspapers are dailies. The rest are printed weekly or semi-weekly.
- The average circulation of all newspapers in the country is 7,000 after combining the hundreds of huge regional and national papers with the thousands of small community newspapers.
- Despite the misconception that nearly all newspapers are part of big national chains, 56 percent of newspapers are independent and locally owned. Only 11 percent are owned by national chains while the rest are part of midsize regional chains or media groups.
- According to the hundreds of newspapers Slimp consults with every year, 56 percent of publishers at small newspapers report the same or higher revenue over the last year, and 84 percent see same or higher revenue over the last three years as well as more staff, higher page counts and more readers. Big chain newspapers, however, have seen major drops in revenue, page counts and staff.
- More than 75 percent of community journalists expect their newspaper to exist in 20 years while almost the same number of national chain journalists see the opposite regarding their newspapers.
When a huge national story breaks, it is covered by hundreds of television networks, radio stations and print newspapers, all vying for readers’ attention and, by extension, their advertising dollars.
However, when a local story breaks, like a council vote, a county corruption scandal or a major high school sports championship, only the local newspaper is around to cover it.
Newspapers may eventually move more content online as technology changes, but the “local newspaper,” the value it provides the community it covers and the weight of its impact to readers is here to stay for decades to come.