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Editorial: Together we can be an informed community

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Two-thirds of residents in small towns across America depend upon their local newspaper for news and information, according to the National Newspaper Association’s most recent newspaper readership survey.

Without newspapers, most small towns would have no local coverage.

NNA, founded in 1885, represents 2,200 members across the U.S. Its mission is to protect, promote and enhance America’s community newspapers. Most of its members are weekly or small daily newspapers in smaller or niche communities.

The survey noted that more readers are using mobile devices to shop, read and communicate. The number with smartphones jumped from 24 percent to 45 percent and 39 percent said they used the phones to access local news.

Newspaper websites remained the leading provider of local news, followed distantly by a local TV station’s site and then by national aggregators, such as Google and Yahoo.

Of course, the search engines get that local news from local news websites.

The annual NNA Community Newspaper Readership survey was completed in 2013 in partnership with the Center for Advanced Social Research of the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri. Surveyors reached 508 households in communities where a local newspaper of circulation of 15,000 or less served the communities.The survey began in 2005. It has consistently shown the community newspaper to be the information leader in smaller communities.

Trust in the local newspaper remains high, the survey found.

Overall, readers in the 2013 survey gave high ratings to the accuracy, coverage, quality of writing and fairness of news reporting of the local print newspapers. In “coverage of local news,” “quality of writing” and “fairness of reporting,” their combined ratings were higher than in 2012.

* 94% of readers agreed that the newspapers were informative.

* 80% said that they and their families looked forward to reading the newspapers.

* 78% relied on the newspapers for local news and information.

* 72% said the newspapers entertained them.

Local readers also like to share their newspaper with others. The “pass-along rate” of the primary subscriber’s sharing with others rose in 2013 to 2.48, compared to 2.18 in 2012 and 2.33 in 2011, possibly indicating continued economic pressure from the fallout of the Great Recession as families economize by purchasing fewer individual copies.

Striking was the finding that nearly one-third of households still do not have Internet access at home. The finding parallels similar conclusions from the U.S. Census Bureau and others that continue to report slow growth in Internet penetration across smaller, and particularly rural communities.

NNA President Robert M. Williams Jr., publisher of the Blackshear (GA) Times, remarked that the RJI research consistently shows the community newspaper as the dominant information medium in their communities.

“We know that it is very difficult for a good community to survive without a good newspaper and vice versa,” Williams said. “The high levels of trust, the consistent pass-along rate and the desire to find the newspaper in whatever medium the reader wishes to use—whether mobile, print or Web—demonstrate the value of good community journalism.”

Williams’ theme during his presidency has been the interdependency of local communities and local newspapers.

“As I often say, if you want a Big Mac, you go to McDonald’s. If you want local news in Blackshear, you go to the Blackshear Times. That high quality news franchise is replicated across America—particularly in smaller communities—in ways that electronic media can only enhance, not supplant. As our electronic mission develops, we remain strong in print and proud of it. We are thankful for America’s readers, who use our news and information and make our communities strong,” he said.

Jerry Lyles with Athlon Media Group, said “Newspapers are the eyes, ears and hearts of communities across America. They provide local news and information important to their residents that can’t be found anywhere else.”

Interlink founder and owner Bill Garber said, “This year’s NNA research confirms that the newspaper itself remains, by a wider margin, the most preferred and trusted source for local news and information as well as advertising.”

“Like readers everywhere, Interlink values community newspapers; and like publishers everywhere, we value community newspaper readers, too.

“That is why this year, and well before the U.S. Postal Service regroups to require it, we will bring proven Full-Service Intelligent Mail® delivery superiority to every newspaper subscriber that every one of our clients mail to wherever they live and work,” Garber added.

“As the NNA study also proves, newspapers today don’t need to be different or better to attract more subscribers. People like the paper well enough just the way it is! Not that better isn’t—well, better. And not that with more readers publishers aren’t likely to invest in making their papers better for both their readers and their advertisers. As the study proves and as publishers are proving every week, new subscribers are signing up every day.”

Interlink President Brad Hill concurs: “We salute NNA and its member publishers for being truly successful under what has been for some time less than an ideal economy,” Hill said, adding that Interlink is proud to be an NNA Partner and proud to help support NNA’s readership survey.

“Interlink believes in the strength of community newspapers. Nothing connects the people of a small community like their local newspaper,” added Hill, who is an NNA representative on the Postmaster General’s Mailers’ Technical Advisory Committee.

Click here for the Executive Summary of the Readership Survey.

Full survey results are available to NNA member newspapers at www.nnaweb.org.

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