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Scanning the Newspapers for Local Coverage

December 14, 2014 8:40 AM | Columns

By Ken Waddell, myWestman


(Newspapers image via Shutterstock)

Needless to say, as a local newspaper owner, I read a lot of newspapers. In recent years, I also read a lot of papers on-line. In general, newspapers have gone downhill. In contrast, our newspapers are very much holding their own and expanding. Our circulations are increasing a bit, our total sales are up and our profits are up slightly as well. All three are indicators of a newspaper’s health. Our papers are bucking a national trend.

There are reasons for that. Newspapers are all supposed to be local. It doesn’t matter if the paper serves a very small market on a weekly basis or if it’s a daily in a huge city. The market it serves is supposed to be local. Not staying local in news coverage is one of the biggest mistakes papers make. It’s tempting to grab a news wire story from far away, it’s a cheap fix to fill a news hole. Every day, I read three daily newspapers and sometimes more, but the three in question are the Brandon Sun, the Winnipeg Free Press and the Winnipeg Sun. The latter two, I read on-line and the first, I read hard copy.

Nearly every day, the dailies go off course by reporting some event that happened in a far away place. It’s usually a terrifying event with an odd twist. It often involves a kidnapping, a murder or both. It’s foolish for a local paper to report on stuff that happens far away that has no local relevance. All it does is raise the anxiety level in local communities. Reporting on a violent event in a far off U.S. state or a far off country is not only irrelevant locally, it simply causes unnecessary angst.

I’m not referring to what we might call world events news coverage. It’s important that dailies keep us up to date on international political events, that’s different. Those events affect our country, they affect our economy.

I have said many times that a newspaper is like a three legged stool. It needs to have local news, local opinion and local advertising. In today’s market, local advertising is the financial life blood of a paper as the local subscription list has gone the way of the dinosaur in many communities. Some papers still are subscription based but most of them are seeing their circulation dwindle each year. That’s a self defeating process as well because advertisers pay for high circulation numbers and the ability of paper to reach nearly every household in market area every week.

There’s actually a fourth leg on the stool for a successful newspaper, they almost always are locally owned. It’s really tough to claim to be a local paper when the head office and the decision makers are hundreds of miles away. They may not even have a clue about the local needs.