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Saving Small Town Newspapers

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Article originally published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette

By Robert Weiner and Zachary Filtz

The American newspaper industry has struggled and evolved significantly in the last several decades. The Daily Hampshire Gazette is no exception to this, and has been one of the valuable small town papers that has stood the test of time during its existence.

As many papers have closed as a result of the changes to the industry, the Gazette has made it, especially during the nearly 40 years of leadership of now-retired editor and publisher Jim Foudy. Established in 1786, the Gazette provides an excellent source of all things Hampshire County and is truly is a national model for all smaller papers to follow.

The newspaper industry had shrunk by 462 papers from 1970 to 2016, dropping from 1,748 dailies to 1,248, according to Statista. That is a 26 percent decrease.

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With so many fewer newspapers, one might think that the American newspaper is doomed to die a slow death. Those who think that are not thinking about a reasonable alternative the newspaper needs to continue to adapt to changes in culture.

According to the Pew Research Center, in 2017, advertising revenues for the newspaper industry were $14.5 billion, while revenues for circulation was $11 billion. Digital advertising accounted for an average of 35 percent of newspaper advertising revenue for publicly-traded news organizations.

People are also looking at newspapers online in smaller increments per day. The average time per day of people visiting newspapers on the web was only 2.3 minutes for the fourth quarter of 2018. That number was down 15 percent from the same quarter in 2017.

People are getting more news from blogs and other internet sources than newspapers. A survey in an article by PR News Wire found that more than half of teens (54%) get news at least a few times a week from social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter and 50% get news from YouTube.

In terms of recent data, Pew also calculated that estimated total U.S. daily news print and digital circulation combined was 28.6 million readers for daily and 30.8 million for Sunday, which were down 8 percent and 9 percent, respectively, from 2017.

The newspaper industry as a whole is struggling, but not necessarily for the three largest papers in the U.S. Data reported to the Alliance for Audited Media reports that from 2017 to 2018, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal posted 27 percent and 23 percent increases in digital circulation, respectively. So some bigs are getting bigger at the expense of small papers.

While the news takes the form of several different applications, the printed newspaper has taken the hardest hit of all of these applications. The website Editor and Publisher shows how some newspapers have found ways to cope and even turn the trend around into increasing circulation, community involvement and revenue.

The Register-Guard of Eugene, Oregon, decided to use a different approach to take on a difficult problem: using editorial articles to expose and study homelessness. Longer in length, the paper published 50 articles through the course of one year.

"Local government officials and people who work for agencies that work with the homeless population often told us they were pleased that the newspaper was examining the issue and that it gave them information they did not have before," Register-Guard editorial page editor Jackman Wilson said.

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