Do we have a future in community newspapers?

Nov 28, 2012

Gloom-and-doomers have been forecasting the death of newspapers most of our lives. The advent of radio was going to kill us. Then TV. Then the Internet. Our doomed publications have proved remarkably resilient.
I have a few predictions of my own:
1. Large general interest newspapers may suffer the same fate as Life, Look and the Saturday Evening Post. The magazines that have survived have niched their readers and advertisers. The metros that survive will have to consider following this formula.
2. Tightly focused community newspapers will survive in print and online. What we do is expensive, time consuming and requires passion and a commitment from owners.
3. Technology isn’t going to kill newspapers any faster than it will kill printed books. Many will prefer to read on e-devices. Others want to hold our newspapers in their hands. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media will offer us new tools for news and advertising.
I commend the National Newspaper Association for its commitment to a large annual competition.
The winning entries represent the best work being produced in our industry. Some of it is breathtaking. Some of it is far beyond what you might expect small newspapers to produce.
If you attended the annual conference this year, you saw the winners and know this to be true.
Sara Walshº, programs and outreach manager, gave me the opportunity to judge special sections in the under 10,000 and over 10,000-circulation classes. I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of special sections being produced today. I know technology has taken some of the drudgery of producing such sections. It has also helped us boost the quality of the writing, photography and design of these sections.
It would be hard to imagine such sections in the days of wax and paste, much less hot type.
Among this year’s entries were some highly ambitious and well executed special sections.
In the under 10,000 class were many impressive entries including:
First place went to the Pagosa Springs Official Visitors Guide. This 140-page full color, coated stock magazine had to be months in the planning and execution. Far larger newspapers would be proud to have produced such a professional and successful special section.
Second place went to the Leelanau Visitors Guide. This was another successful 116-page full color guide, a mix of coated stock and bleached newsprint that would be welcomed by visitors.
Third place went to Fall in Love with Leelanau, a guide for fall color lovers. And honorable mentions went to the Pagosa Springs Relocation Guide and the Pinckneyville Press Calendar Cuties, a 12-month calendar featuring photos of local children.
In the more than 10,000 circulation class, first place went to Taos - Life at a Higher Level. These are two large (11.5 inches x 13 inches) full color Winter/Spring and Summer/Fall Visitors Guides, each 160 pages and apparently sold as a package as most of the advertisers ran in both editions. A super production.
Second place went to the Best of Taos. This was another successful 60-page full color celebration of the choices of the newspaper’s readers as the best in dozens of classifications. A great advertising buy and model for any publisher planning a “Best of” promotion.
Third place went to Out & About: 25 Years in Downeast Maine, a beautifully written and designed visitor guide on 11 inches x 13.5 inches bleached stock. A real gem. And honorable mention went to Perfect Southwest Weddings and the Taos Gallery Guide.
I appreciate the opportunity to judge these entries.
They make me feel more bullish about community newspapers’ futures.
Takeaway thought: A sample copy of the opening chapters of my new book “What It Costs to Be the Boss: 21 Secrets of Peak Performers in Today’s Challenging Newspaper Climate” are available to Publishers’ Auxiliary subscribers. E-mail me for a copy at © The Bellune Co. 2012

Jerry Bellune and his family own and operate book and newspaper publishing companies and a consulting and sales coaching company. For information on how he might help you, e-mail him at