For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
August 15, 2001 - Newspaper Readership
I've been writing library columns for local newspapers for 13 years now. I believe that libraries and newspapers have strong similarities; we are natural allies.
The recent acquisition of the former Weekly News Chronicle by Colorado Community Newspapers got me curious. Ten years ago, there were as many as five separately owned newspapers in Douglas County. This marks the first column I've written that will appear, all at once, in four different newspapers (serving the communities of Highlands Ranch, Lone, Parker, and the rest of Douglas County).
The good news is, I now only have to write one column a week.
But I began to wonder: what's the business outlook for newspapers? Here's what I've learned.
In general, newspaper readership in America is slowly, but steadily, falling. In 1970, some 77% of Americans regularly read a newspaper; by 2000, that number had fallen to 58%. There are generational differences: 70% of pre-Boomers (born before 1945) subscribe to the local newspaper, compared to 58% for Boomers (born between 1946-1964), and falling to 47% of Gen-Xers (born between 1965-1976).
One study focused on the differences between two key demographic groups. Both Boomers and Gen Xers say they read newspapers to keep up-to-date on what is happening locally, nationally and internationally, and because newspapers provide them with depth and detail. About 7 out of 10 of both groups scan headlines, then focus on topics of interest.
Boomers are drawn to editorial and opinion pages and business coverage. Gen Xers are not. One reporter summed it up as follows: "Your job, Xers seem to be saying, is to give us the news in a straight-forward manner. We'll decide what we think about it."
There are also significant differences between men and women. More men read the paper; but more women read the ads. Newspapers depend on ad revenue, far more than on subscriptions.
It's not all bad news. In a typical week, according to another study, about 85 percent of the adult U.S. population uses a newspaper. Nationally, that's considerably better than the number of people who visit a library in a week. One newspaper editor noted, "We still sell more than 56 million newspapers a day, and an average of 2.23 people read each copy. No other medium reaches so many people on a regular basis." USA Today (America's largest daily), the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times have all seen modest increases in circulation since last year.
Overall, however, American newspaper readership dropped by .9% from 2000 to 2001. In the Denver metro area, things were worse. At the conclusion of the subscriber wars in Denver, Denver Rocky Mountain News circulation declined 17.9% over last year; Denver Post dropped by 11.9%. The Sunday Post, however, became the nation's fifth-largest Sunday paper, with a circulation of 970,934.
As you might expect, newspaper publishers and editors do see the writing on the wall. Since 1999, they have tried to better understand their actual and potential markets.
Most significant is the so-called Impact Study, conducted just last year. It involved several parties: the Readership Institute at the Media Management Center at Northwestern University, the Newspaper Association of America, and the American Society of Newspaper Editors. The study, based on the results of 37,000 surveys from 100 newspapers of various sizes, showed that while the readers expect a variety of content, they have distinct preferences that may build frequency of readership. According to one summary, "At the top of the list is intensely local, people-centered news, which includes stories about ordinary people, community announcements and obituaries."
The bottom line: newspapers still play a significant role in informing local citizens about matters of local consequence. And like any other business, newspapers have their challenges.
Here's wishing the good people at Colorado Community Newspapers every success.