Weekly Newspapers Spring Up In Maine

By: Clarke Canfield, Associated Press Writer

(AP) Not long ago, this fast-growing suburb received lean newspaper coverage. Nowadays, the newspaper field is downright crowded.

With last month’s launch of two new weekly papers, Scarborough residents can now get news about their town from four weeklies and a daily.

The new weeklies reflect what’s going on across the country. While the number and circulation of daily newspapers continue to dwindle — circulation has declined 13 years running — the readership of weeklies has risen.

“Community newspapers are read by 150 million people every week, despite the Internet and other sources of information,” said Ken Allen of the National Newspaper Association, which represents weekly papers. “That suggests they’re doing something right.”

Last year there were 1,480 daily U.S. newspapers with a total circulation of 55.8 million, according to Editor & Publisher, the magazine that covers the newspaper industry.

The number of dailies has fallen each year since 1979, when there were 1,763. The circulation has fallen every year since 1987, when it totaled 62.8 million.

But non-daily papers — the community weeklies and shoppers — have been growing. E&P has kept count since 1996, when there were 7,837 of them with a circulation of 100.3 million. In 2000, there were 8,059 such papers with a circulation of 110.3 million.

The numbers have dipped slightly this year — observers blame the weak economy — but the overall trend is up.

Part of that growth has occurred in Maine, and several communities now have competing weeklies, including Belfast (population 6,381), Ellsworth (population 6,456), and York (population 12,854).

In Scarborough, the weekly American Journal based in nearby Westbrook has given the town editorial coverage for many years.

But news coverage has grown along with Scarborough’s population, which grew by more than 35% and added more residents than any other Maine town from 1990 to 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Scarborough Leader, a free weekly with a circulation of 8,000, debuted in 1994. Last month, two weeklies published their inaugural issues — giving the town four weeklies and a daily to cover the goings-on.

The Scarborough Current and its sister paper, The Cape Current, sell for 65 cents a copy and have a combined circulation of 5,000 to 6,000, said Lee Hewes Casler, owner and publisher of Current Publishing. She started the papers because she felt residents couldn’t get comprehensive news coverage elsewhere.

The number of businesses in Scarborough has grown from 400 to 800 since 1989, and they are looking for local advertising vehicles, Casler said.

“Weeklies have been growing in advertising revenues and reader base,” she said. “They’re growing because of the way we live.”

Marian McCue, owner and editor of Forecaster Publishing, said her new weekly is free and has a circulation of 15,000. McCue’s paper, The Forecaster Southern Edition, is a spinoff from The Forecaster, a weekly that covers the suburbs north of Portland.

McCue says one reason for the growth of weeklies is the low startup cost. These days, anybody with a computer, desktop publishing software, a couple of employees, and access to a printing press can launch a weekly.

Scarborough isn’t the only place where new weeklies are popping up.

Brenda Reed, director of the New England Press Association, can name at least six new non-daily papers that have been started in New England this year. They include a weekly covering Boston’s Haitian community, one targeting young readers in Manchester, N.H., and one for an inner-city Boston neighborhood.

Of course, the growth in weeklies is bound to have an effect on dailies. Around here that would be the Portland Press Herald, with a circulation of 75,000.

“Everybody who comes in and takes a bite out of the advertising pie hurts everybody else,” said John Morton of Morton Research Inc., a media consulting firm in Silver Spring, Md.

At the same time, though, daily newspaper companies are seeing value in community weeklies — so much so that many of them are buying up the weeklies around their core markets, Morton said. It has been happening in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Cleveland, Chicago, Kansas City, and Boston, he said. “It’s a way for them to deepen their franchise without creating multiple zones.”

At the Portland Press Herald, spokeswoman Shireen Shahawy said weekly papers are just one more source of competition for ad dollars. Dailies already compete with radio and television stations, cable TV, Internet sites, and other media.

“Can they all stay?” she said. “I don’t know. I bet that’s a really tough situation down there.”

Casler isn’t worried, even after she first learned that The Forecaster was launching a new edition that would compete with her new paper. “A town can have more than one restaurant, more than one bank, more than one hair salon,” she said. “And it can have more than one newspaper.”

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