I’m sick and tired of apologizing for being in the newspaper business, and I suspect you feel the same way.
Our industry suffers mightily from self-inflicted wounds. We’re more likely to publish stories about our problems than our successes. We focus on print copies trending down instead of digital readership going up. And we fail to engage detractors who falsely claim that nobody reads newspapers anymore.
Too often, we can’t seem to put down our self-pity hymnal and sing a happier tune. We should be telling the remarkable story of how newspapers are an ever-evolving enterprise instead of a static wait-and-see-what-will-happen business.
Folks, we have a remarkable model with brag points most other businesses would give their eye teeth to claim. Our local newspapers are highly credible with our readers and advertisers, influential in the community, and we uphold a noble mission of serving the greater good.
If you will allow me some rope, I’d say we are a business with tremendous opportunities ahead. But first, we need to get our swagger back.
Lets take a basic business assessment quiz. Please play along.
Does your business have a long track record of success?
Is your business locally respected?
Is your potential customer base growing?
Do people invest in your offerings?
Does your business make the community a better place to live?
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that approximately 20% of new businesses shutter during the first two years, 45% during the first five years, and 65% during the first 10 years. Only 25% of new businesses make it to 15 years or more.
Where are you on this scale? I’ll bet you are among your community's most successful long-term businesses.
Brag: “In a world where only roughly one in four businesses survive beyond 15 years, at (fill in your number) years old, I’d say this newspaper has a pretty good business, wouldn’t you?”
Forget national polls focusing on general media categories; when you publish in your local community, does anyone listen? Do actions result? Do people respond? You are not national media. You are a crucial thread in your community’s fabric.
Brag: “When we report on news in the community, readers know this is not social media gossip, and they can count on us to give a fair shake. We will never surrender telling the truth in exchange for likes.”
In real terms, most newspapers and the products and services they provide reach more people than at any other time in history. Look at your market and consider the number of people you touch in print, email, digital and events. These numbers most likely dwarf anytime in the history of your newspaper.
Brag: “Today, our newspaper’s products and services reach more people than at any point in my lifetime. How many businesses do you know that can say that?”
Newspaper subscribers are as loyal as customers can be. Unlike buy-and-go customers, people find enough value in our products and services to become business partners. They partner with us by subscribing.
They want a paper delivered to their home, digital newsletters in their inbox or both. They depend on us to share the community’s obits, cover how their hard-earned tax money is spent and tell them how their hometown heroes did under the Friday night lights.
Brag: “Our newspapers have thousands of repeat customers who buy every edition. Do you think a restaurant would like that many folks showing up every day or week to consume their product?”
Research shows that communities without a newspaper performing the basic watchdog duty of keeping the people’s business in the light of day have higher crime rates, less government transparency, and higher taxes. An essential element of a newspaper’s DNA is to bring governmental activities to the attention of citizen taxpayers.
Brag: “Our newspaper is where this community finds out what their elected officials are up to — and our newspaper plays a role in debating the issues. Would you rather live in one of those other communities?”
The first step in regaining our swagger is to embrace the nature of our hard-earned exceptionalism, which comes down to this:
Local newspapers are among the most established businesses in any town, are trusted by their communities and reach a larger combined audience than ever. People consider their hometown paper valuable enough to pay good money for its long-term services. And a town with an active newspaper is statistically a better place to live.
I think that’s something worth fighting for and bragging about.
Join me. Let's swagger into the future and make our communities the best possible places to live. It's in our DNA.
Leonard Woolsey is the president of Southern Newspapers, Inc., and publisher of The Daily News in Galveston, Texas.
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