86% adults Read America's Community Newspapers Weekly

Just when Americans find themselves drawn to news reports from a contentious presidential election and deflating economic challenges, new research from the National Newspaper Association (NNA) again demonstrates that Main Street America relies upon community newspapers to inform and empower citizens from coast to coast. In a follow-up to its landmark 2005 research and 2007 update, NNA finds that 86 per cent of adults read a local community newspaper each week, which compares with 83 percent in 2007 and 81 percent in 2005. The survey was conducted this past summer, before the presidential race heated up and the stock market took a dive.

“This is in stark contrast to news reports trumpeting the decline, if not demise, of newspapers,” says John Stevenson, president of NNA and publisher of the Randolph Leader in Roanoke, AL. “We learned three years ago that we had a different story to tell, and with this second update we again prove that our initial findings hold up.”

According to the 2008 NNA survey, conducted by the Reynolds Journalism Institute’s (RJI) Center for Advanced Social Research at the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri: 86 percent of adults over the age of 18 read a newspaper every week. 75 percent of those readers read most or all of their paper.
On average, readers spend 45 minutes reading an issue of their paper, compared to 42 minutes from the 2007 survey, and 38 minutes in the 2005 survey.
More than one-third of readers keep their paper for more than six days, enabling them to revisit a story or advertisement at their leisure.

“Readers and advertisers have not abandoned community newspapers that serve their communities well, that are involved in their communities,” 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. They grow, together.”

“Just about all of the research and news reports on the “struggling” newspaper industry have been based on what’s happening at the top 100 major metropolitan newspapers, maybe the top 250,” said Brian Steffens, NNA executive director. “That doesn’t tell the story of the remaining 1,200 daily newspapers or 8,000 community weekly papers in America. Many of those troubled papers started as community papers and then enjoyed decades of growth as they expanded into adjacent communities and surrounding suburbs, becoming regional newspapers and losing that tight community focus. That worked for awhile, but that model may not be as successful going forward. But it doesn’t seem right to paint the rest of our industry with that brush.”

To capture a snapshot of readership along Main Street America, NNA surveyed adults in markets served by newspapers of less than 25,000 circulation to examine the relationship between Main Street America and newspapers. The 2007 survey included population centers less than 50,000; the 2005 survey targeted population centers less than 100,000.

According to the 2008 NNA survey, local community newspapers are the primary source of information for both news and advertising in local communities-by a 5-1 margin over the next most popular media.

To reinforce the concept that the public, or newspapers on the public’s behalf, should hold government accountable, 81 percent of readers said that government should be required to publish public notices in newspapers. This compares to 79 percent in 2007 and 71 percent in 2005.

“This is an excellent report card on the value of community newspapers,” says Stevenson. “But we cannot ignore a changing media landscape. We urge our members to view the Internet as an opportunity, not a threat; to consider it as one more tool to deliver value to our communities.”

Internet access at home has increased to 75 percent compared to 67 percent in 2007 and 61 percent in 2005, according to the latest research, Broadband (high speed) Internet access has jumped to 74 percent from 66 percent in 2007 and 39 percent in 2005.

Some 31 percent of community newspaper readers report they have visited their local paper’s web site in the last month, about the same as a year ago and compared to 20 percent in 2005.

“Despite a sizable growth in Internet and broadband access in smaller communities, these results indicate tremendous community support for their community newspapers,” Stevenson said. “The value proposition to readers and advertisers remains strong.”

NNA continues to seek donations and funding to update the research annually, according to NNA’s Executive Director Brian Steffens. “There are plenty of community newspapers that are maintaining or growing profit margins, many of them in double digits,” says Steffens, “I get more calls about new papers starting up than I get from publishers who are considering shutting down. Just in the past few weeks I’ve learned of nearly a dozen new community newspapers starting up. Community newspapers remain the dominant source of local news, products and services – typically by a wide margin – over any other media.”

When comparing 2008 results to 2007 and 2005, do not assume that they indicate a true increase or decline year over year. A direct comparison is impossible because the same people were not surveyed each year and the survey sample was changed each year: each year the “top end” was reduced to focus more on adults in smaller towns and cities that were more likely to read a community newspaper instead of a major metropolitan daily.

What we can say is that the results were extremely consistent across all three years. These results demonstrate that the findings were not a fluke of a particular year or sample. These results might suggest that adults in smaller towns and cities have a stronger relationship with the newspapers than adults in larger towns and cities.

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