Newspapers still a beacon in America
When television was first introduced, it was predicted that it would be the death of radio. When home videos became available, it was expected to mark the eventual end of movie theaters.
And even e-books were supposed to be the demise of print books. And with the advent of the internet, many projected that newspapers would soon be dead and buried. But all the aforementioned media formats have defied the odds and are still around, albeit to a lesser extent than before.
And while the newspaper industry has, in fact, suffered under the mobile digital transformation, the biggest dent has been to the daily newspapers that are trying to cram local, state and national news into a paper with narrower and fewer pages than ever before.
Weekly newspapers, however, have long been a valuable news source within a community because it mainly focuses on offering only local news and photographs. But even weeklies have taken a hit in recent years; the main factors being fewer subscribers and reduced advertising revenue.
October 7-13 marks the 78th annual National Newspaper Week; a recognition of the service of newspapers and their employees across North America.
And we take a look at four area weekly newspapers, including the Mascot, to learn how they have managed to keep readers interested and what their plans are moving forward.
The four publishers and editor quizzed have each been in the print media industry for many years with one or more different papers.
Byron Higgin has been the publisher of the Minneota Mascot since 2008. The Mascot was founded in 1891, making it 128 years old.
Seth Schmidt has been the Tracy Headlight Herald publisher since 1985. The Headlight Herald evolved from the Tracy Trumpet, which was first published in 1879.
Adam Conroy has been publisher of the Western Guard in Madison since 2016, as well as taking over as publisher of the Canby News this year.
The Western Guard is a 127-year-old newspaper, while the Canby News has been in existence for the past 142 years. He was editor of both papers before becoming publisher. And Mark Wilmes has been the editor of newspapers in three different small towns for the last 21 years — Tyler, Lake Benton and Hendricks. He has been the managing editor of the Tyler Tribute, Lake Benton Valley Journal and Hendricks Pioneer for the past four years. Some iteration of the Tyler paper has been in existence since the late 1880s. It has been the Tyler Tribute for nearly 50 years. What are some of the main areas in which newspapers have changed in the past 20 years?
HIGGIN: “The day we brought in the computers and got rid of the old compu-graphic equipment was a red-letter day. However, my greatest day was the Dawn of the Digital Age. I no longer had to develop film, and then develop photos in chemical trays while standing on my feet for hours. It gave me the mobility and ease of quick and easy photos. This was the one change that helped me the most.”
SCHMIDT: “The digital revolution has made most aspects of production much easier, and allowed us to produce a better product. No longer having to develop film and print photos is a big time saver, as is being able to compose a newspaper page on a computer screen, and download digital files over the internet to our printing plant. The ability to produce quality color photographs in our newspaper, week after week, is something I never envisioned at the start of my career.”
CONROY: “In my time in the newspaper business, I haven’t seen changes as much as I’ve seen progress. We are open to and encourage people to submit articles and photos, and that continues to grow. I’ve always said I might own the paper, but it really belongs to the community. These are their stories and their photos, and we want to share them.”
WILMES: “When I first started in 1997, we were pasting up, but cutting out stories and waxing the paper and pasting to layout sheets. Now everything is laid out on the computer and uploaded digitally for the printer. I used to spend Monday afternoons in the darkroom developing film. That is probably the most significant change. Now I can tell immediately if I shot a good picture and it goes straight to my computer and into the layout.” What things is your paper doing to compete against social media?
HIGGIN: “First, you can’t compete against social media. You join it; then move on. I don’t feel we have a news room anymore. We have a ‘media room’. Our job is to get the public all the news as fast as we can on our website; then work on the in-depth story for our weekly newspaper.”
SCHMIDT: “I wouldn’t say we ‘compete’ against social media. Rather, we work hard at producing quality local news stories and pictures that aren’t going to be found on social media.”
CONROY: “We’ve added an online edition of the paper in Madison and it has been somewhat successful. What I’ve learned, though, is when it comes to our community weekly papers people prefer to hold an actual paper in their hand. Our advertising and reader base has not been interested in the internet compared to print. We also use social media as an addition to our paper; using it as an instant reach if we need it, or an additional avenue for advertising. Social media is so large and so vast, and there is so much junk on it that people tend to focus on just a few things and breeze through the rest. Social media has no standard of credibility, truth or ethical standards. It is just a platform that anything can be shared. Newspapers are held to a standard of what is printed is real and true. We just do our best to focus on informative and entertaining articles, eye-catching photos, creative and affective advertising, and being present in the moment to capture and document what goes on in our communities.”
WILMES: “We don’t give away much of our content online. We are the only paper that covers our town every day. It is the only place people can find all the news about our town.” The majority of people still reading a print newspaper are 45-and-older. What things are you attempting to do to entice the younger generation to read the paper?
HIGGIN: “The younger generation is not being enticed to newspaper. Their parents and grandparents could be our biggest allies, but they likely don’t think about it much. If we can do one thing, it’s to print photos of the younger generation as often as we can and hope someone draws their attention to the photo in the paper. For most of them, life is whizzing by very fast and they left the newspaper behind before they even heard about it.”
SCHMIDT: “We want to make reading our newspaper as convenient as possible for readers, no matter what their ages are. That is one reason why we offer a complete online version of the Headlight Herald, so that people can immediately access the newspaper each Wednesday afternoon, without waiting for the mail. We will put a major breaking story on our website. However, we do not make a habit of posting items on social media, because this would require a major time commitment that we feel is better devoted to the production of our newspaper.”
CONROY: “With our publications, though, we do have readership that reaches younger generations. Along with all other important aspects of a newspaper, we put a strong emphasis on school activities, 4-H, youth activities and area sports that draws attention from anyone with kids or anyone that plays sports. We also have a major emphasis on photography, which draws younger readers as well.”
WILMES: “We hope that running plenty of pictures of their activities will draw them in and get them in the habit of taking a look at the newspapers every week.” Why do you feel it’s important for a small town to have a weekly paper?
HIGGIN: “We can survive for a long time as long as we feed the needs of our local people. Nothing else serves the local community like the community newspaper. So we must continue to work hard to provide local coverage of the entire community. We can’t beat the social media, but we can be better than they could ever be. Most of all, we must do all we can to keep journalism’ alive. Unfortunately, social media is not journalism. It’s gossip. And while people seem to want that, it is killing off real journalism as fast as possible. It’s hard for me to imagine a day without real journalism, but it could happen. Only newspapers can keep it alive.”
SCHMIDT: “A good weekly newspaper is a pillar of the community. Having a publication devoted to the everyday aspects of life, as well as the major ones, is one of the things that make living in a small community special. A good newspaper can act as an opinion leader, help spearhead worthy projects, promote a deeper sense of community among its residents, and in general help make the community a better place to live by keeping the public well-informed about local issues and events.”
CONROY: “Weekly papers are absolutely vital to small towns. In most cases, weekly papers are the only source of objective information relating to governmental entities, crime and schools. And in most cases, weekly papers are the only source of sports coverage, town event coverage, feature stories about people’s accomplishments and much more. They are also a premium place to advertise, with a wide reach and heavy saturation in the communities they cover. Newspapers are, and will continue to be, watchdogs for the community they represent. Newspapers are like a letter from home; as many subscribers who no longer live in their home town call them.”
WILMES: “Having a weekly newspaper is important because it keeps everyone informed about their city government, school board meetings, local elections, local sports and a host of other items exclusive to our paper.”