State newspapers better off than most

by

Published: May 11,2009

As an industry that relies heavily on revenue from advertisers, newspapers have struggled in the recession as businesses trim costs.

As several large, daily newspapers have closed across the U.S., the dried revenue streams no longer able to sustain payroll.

In Mississippi, however, while newsrooms and circulation departments have seen their staffs shrink — with some newspapers having cut publications — life isn’t as bad as the rest of the country’s problems would indicate.

Layne Bruce, executive director of the Mississippi Press Association (MPA), said Mississippi’s newspapers are no different from any other industry in a recession economy.

“Our core membership remains quite strong and is weathering these difficult economic times,” Bruce told the Mississippi Business Journal in a question-and-answer session in late April.

In an effort to prop up sagging advertising revenue, the MPA operates a for-profit subsidiary, Mississippi Press Services, whose mission is to act as an advertising representative to member newspapers and promote them as a viable advertising medium.

“Through our network of sister associations across the country, MPA is able to place advertising papers on behalf of clients in any Mississippi newspaper or any other paper from coast to coast,” Bruce said. “This is all done at no charge to the advertising client.”

The news business has undergone an almost complete overhaul with the arrival of the digital age and, before that, the Internet.

Newsprint costs have gone up as ad revenue has dropped. Internet content was once a minor compliment to a newspaper’s print edition, but is now where most consumers go to first for information. Adapting is critical for newspapers that intend on surviving, Bruce said, adding that the MPA regularly hosts and seminars and programs to help its members stay abreast of the latest in technology and trends.

“ We believe the continued education of our membership is the most critical tool we can lend as they adapt to a changing media landscape,” Bruce said.

“It is leveling the playing field for those who are embracing (digital media). Newspapers are adapting with webcasts and online ad sales, plunging into territory once reserved for broadcasters.

“On the news side, they must continue to be trusted information providers for readers, offering them useful content not found in other media. They must also continue to pay close attention to clients as we all work our way through to a healthier economy.”

Technology starting to become a part of a newspaper’s dissemination arsenal is social media such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. Social media offers as-it-happens news for consumers, and is the next step in the race among media outlets to report news first.

“It’s another avenue for developing an even closer relationship with readers,” Bruce said. “It is still brand new to many of our members, but I am also surprised how some small newspapers in the state have fully embraced it, offering news alerts and an opportunity for interaction to a connected circle of readers through sites such as Facebook.”

To stay viable long-term, adjusting on the fly cannot be exclusive to the recession, Bruce believes. Even community newspapers that serve a small area and whose news cannot be found anywhere else are eventually going to have to join the digital and social media revolution.

“Newspapers must carefully consider their roles as sources of information and what readers will expect not just in the next edition but years down the road,” Bruce said. “Newspapers will have to become more enterprising in the future and offer content readers aren’t finding from other sources. Simply reporting the headlines from yesterday or the last seven days isn’t going to sell newspapers in the future.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@msbusiness.com .

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