John Howell Column

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 20, 2009

Readership of local newspapers up in print on online

Newspapers have taken a drubbing lately with one story after another predicting their demise in this straitened, digital age. The broadcast media seems the almost gleeful bearer of that news.

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And it’s true for the daily newspapers serving the 100 largest metropolitan markets in this country. You’ve seen the recent changes in The Commercial Appeal and the Clarion Ledger as they cope with decreasing ad revenue and numbers of readers.

But what you are hearing about the struggles of large daily newspapers is not necessarily true of the hundreds of small daily and weekly newspapers across the country.

Certainly we also wrestle in this the current economy, but our numbers are strong.

I am not making this up.

In 2005, the National Newspaper Association began exhaustive research through the Reynolds Journalism Institute’s Center for Advanced Social Research at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. It followed up the 2005 study with updates in 2007 and 2008.

“We learned three years ago that we had a different story to tell,” NNA President John Stevenson of Roanoke, AL said, and with the second update we again prove our initial findings hold up.”

Among the findings:

• 86 percent of adults over 18 read a newspaper every week (up from 81 percent in 2005).

• 75 percent of those readers read most or all of their paper.

• On average, readers spend 45 minutes reading each issue (compared to 38 minutes in 2005).

There’s more if you are interested at the National Newspaper Association’s Web site,, the click “Resources” at the top of the page, then “Research” that will appear under that. You’ll find it.

“Readers and advertisers have not abandoned community newspapers that serve their communities well, …” Stevenson said. “In towns and cities across the country, vibrant local newspapers continue to help strengthen their communities, and those communities in turn strengthen and support their local news source.”

At The Panolian, we plan to continue reporting local news while we make adjustments to changes in reading habits. Presently our print numbers hold up well — about 5,700 sold through subscriptions and single copy sales with an additional 2,500 delivered to schools on Tuesdays.

During the last seven days prior to this writing — from Feb. 13 to Feb. 19 — our Web site,, averaged almost 2,400 unique visits daily. (A unique visit is one computer’s visit to our Web site during a 24 hour period. Subsequent visits by the same computer during the 24-hour period are not counted.)

The point is that people are hungry for local news — whether it’s printed in the paper or posted on the Web site. In coming weeks we be experimenting with how to better package what we offer. Soon we will offer out-of-state subscribers an e-subscription that will allow them to read the entire newspaper online as PDFs. We plan to follow that with other e-subscription offers.

The point is that we will be experimenting with presentation while continuing to cram our pages — printed or Web pages— with as much local news as possible.

After all, even as newspapers’ detractors gloat at the predicted demise of newspapers, they are starting to ask among themselves: If there are no more newspapers, who’s going to report on city hall?