Feature: “There is a future for community newspapers” – Buffet

By Bev Mortimer: In spite of the migration to the web, trends in South Africa and abroad, particularly in the UK and US,  have shown that community newspapers are still most popular in the communities where they are published.

Esteemed and renowned economist, Warren Buffet, has stunned the world by not buying websites but by buying up many community newspapers as he believes there is future for them. “In towns and cities where there is a strong sense of community, there is no more important institution than the local paper,” Buffet said in June this year after his latest 66th community newspaper acquisition.

“We will favour towns and cities with a strong sense of community… If a citizenry cares little about its community, it will eventually care little about its newspaper,” Buffett wrote. “I believe newspapers that intensively cover their communities will have a good future.”

He believes the Internet and blogs  will never replace the local newspaper for community news.

Community newspapers after all have unique offerings:

A principal research finding is that community papers have a unique space in the lives of their readers, being ‘perfectly positioned’ for changing South African trends (both brands and service). Community papers are the ‘perfect platform’ for brands to showcase their commitment to their customers.”

“Market forces and the resulting initiatives by forward-thinking companies signal an industry-wide shift to focusing on consumers at community level,” a recent study by South Africa’s ABC found. According to the latest ABC circulation figures free community newspapers have grown by 34,9% in the last six years and paid-for community newspapers by 35,4%.

“One of the most prominent reasons for this phenomenon is that there has been a substantial increase in the demand for newspapers from South Africa’s emerging middle class. There has also been a growing need among all sectors to be informed about matters that affect them in their immediate surroundings.”

Not only do people want to be informed they want details of events as written by good writers. No matter how snazzy and stunningly beautiful websites may be, if their blog writers cannot write and the writers make endless grammatical errors, do not get the correct facts, they are laying up  so much trouble for themselves . At the very least they can be sued.

Readers are not stupid and will soon point out inaccuracies.  But also if blog writers cannot write in a lively enough manner, if they resort to inane or trite comments they will either irritate or bore their readers to tears and there will be less repeat readers. Without repeat readers who is going to see your adverts regularly? Journalists who have worked on proper newspapers (in print and online) have been trained to write well and to keep their readers hooked. Some bloggers , while having a love of writing, have not necessarily  been properly trained.

In these hard economic times residents should consider the importance and value of their community newspapers.

Richard Eckstrom, comp-troller general of South Carolina, recently wrote a syndicated article that appeared in many US newspapers.

“Community newspapers can boost the local economy – both through advertising and in news coverage. They showcase community businesses at a time we need to be shopping locally, investing in the community and protecting local jobs. They allow “mom and pop” businesses to reach their most likely customers.

“Community newspapers bring us “good news”—news of local projects, civic club fundraisers, happenings, morning markets and social events or community activities. They also have to bring the bad news so that the powers that be can attend to and repair society’s ills.

“Community newspaper help neighbours get to know each other a little better. They often report on anniversaries and family reunions, reminding people of the things they like so well about their community.

“Community newspapers provide a forum for expression. They allow readers to make their voices heard, and they enable ordinary citizens to deliberate on the future of their community. They encourage civil, issue-oriented discourse and they often set the stage for it.

“Many community newspapers serve as “watchdogs” to hold elected leaders accountable. They shine a light on local government, sometimes using “Freedom of Information” laws to get public records and make those records available to citizens. They keep voters informed. They let people see how their money is being spent. During an economic downturn – when Rands are scarce and the demands on them increase – that’s important.

“The people who operate these newspapers work and live in the communities they cover. They’re your neighbours. They share your values. They understand your community because they’re a part of it.

“With the nation plunging into recession and with the never-ending stream of bad economic news, there’s much focus on the decline of newspaper circulation in most of the major markets across the country. Newspaper stocks have been taking a beating, and news reports tell us these are dark days for their industry.

“Community newspapers are much more than paper and ink. Community newspapers pull communities together. They help connect people with those around them. In this way, community newspapers provide a valuable form of public service.

“Amid uncertainty over the quality of our daily economy and the direction of our nation, their role is more important than ever. Let’s hope the outlook for community newspapers continues to be much brighter than what is being reported in the national media,” Eckstrom concludes.

“Quite often people read local papers for the advertisements as well as the reports, maintains freelance Canadian journalist, Amanda Oyes. If they want to know what sales or events are going on in their area, they will turn to their community newspaper,  Oyes says, adding that community businesses need these papers to advertise effectively to their target audience. “This isn’t to say that the reporting in community papers is of lesser value than the ads, or that people don’t read community newspapers’ content or news. On the contrary, as the world becomes more globalised, communities find an increasing need for something that will bring them together. This feeling of community can be created by experiencing a local event through the newspapers coverage.”

While online news and print newspapers overlap a lot in terms of content, each may have a very different appeal based on the reader’s personality and lifestyle, says gisellemaine.hubpages. “For example, a property developer is much more likely to benefit from an in-print newspaper than online news to find out what is happening locally such as new zoning laws and road construction. “On the other hand, someone who is accustomed to being online frequently may simply find it more helpful to simply get their news there. Print newspapers lend themselves better to browsing while online is more effective for searching.”

Lastly, it’s important to remember that both print and online news may appeal to the same person under different circumstances (e.g. reading the print newspaper over breakfast and coffee, versus later in the day checking online for updates on stories of interest).”

Oyes sums up the appeal of community newspapers as follows: “With the vast amount of content that is available and so easily accessible community newspapers are an easy place to turn to get back to reality on a local scale. Upon entering the Internet people enter a whole new world, a world that dailies and national broadcast companies have to compete with.

“Reading a community newspaper is like coming home after spending many long hours travelling. It is a constant within an ever-changing industry.”

In my opinion, websites are very important because of mobility and the mobile trends etc.  But your website has to be found and unitl it is found and becomes popular the advets on it are not seen.

Many people think that when they create a website millions of Internet users worldwide will find them and buy their products. This is simply not such an easy case.

In my own experience, just because St Francis Chronicle went on the web did not mean the whole world would find it and see adverts placed on it. Starting a website and expecting everyone to find it was similar to one going to the middle of the crowded Trafalgar Square or to Durban’s beachfront on Christmas Day and thinking ‘the whole world will now find me here.’

One has to be special enough to get the world to notice you. The Internet is not only the most competitive marketplace, it is also the great leveller. Internet marketing is perhaps even more competitive than any offline marketing. Not only are you competing with other companies like yours worldwide, all these companies are competing against you.

There are billions of websites – and billions of products advertised globally. One can just type in the words “plumber” or ‘estate agent” or “newspaper” or “web site” and one can grow very old before one reads all the returns that Google will dish up from its mammoth and growing database. So it is going to be hard t stand out. 

And search engines give higher placement when popularity has increased. St Francis Chronicle has improved its placing over the past year . The newspaper’s website has had almost 74 000+ visitors  (figures online today, 11-08-12) since the start of the daily news online for St Francis Chronicle in May 2011– that is around 5000 hits a month – some days there are more than 2000 visitors  to the site!

The trend to online is exciting. Exciting websites are blossoming, for example, an excellent and dynamic website is ShowMe Plett  (www.showme.co.za/plett) and there will soon be a maginificent ‘ShowMe St Francis’ that will stand out among the pack. This big player has marketing budgets to assist its highly popular, interlinked ShowMe websites countrywide, so it is able to grow faster.

Yet, when all is said and done  I still believe there is room for both print and online. Food for thought?

A slightly shorter version of the above article was first published in the July print edition of St Francis Chronicle

All articles edited or written, all photos taken, plus all adverts designed, by the Editor and printed in the St Francis Chronicle are protected by Copyright ©.  Reproduction or copying of any part of the contents of this newspaper and its concept and design can only be done with the Editor’s written permission.