Beam: Newspapers’ demise a myth

“No one is reading newspapers anymore,” the local businessman told me when I asked him why he hadn’t advertised in the paper recently. “I read it from cover to cover, but others don’t,” he said.

A local car dealer told me there are so many advertising outlets available he has to spread his money around. However, up to that point he hadn’t done much advertising in the newspaper. Other auto dealers are using the newspaper ­— you’ve seen their ads — and they are getting results, which don’t always come overnight.

After over 52 years in this business, I find negative comments about newspapers puzzling. The industry is changing, no doubt about that, and there is a lot more competition. However, there are still many readers out there and bright spots on the horizon.

For starters, I should mention that the American Press has 29,382 daily subscribers and 35,421 on Sundays. And those figures are certified by the Alliance for Audited Media, formerly ABC Reporting. With about two readers per subscription, you can double those numbers and you are talking about between 60,000 and 70,000 daily newspaper readers.

Yes, advertising within the newspaper itself has declined, but most of that is made up in daily inserts that are popular with readers. Look at a Sunday paper if you doubt that. There are also other signs that demonstrate how effective any kind of newspaper advertising can be.

Walmart and Sam’s, for example, are fairly new insert customers. The chain avoided newspaper advertising for the most part during its early years, but has obviously learned that newspapers can sell products effectively.

Kroger’s is another good example. Other grocers have decided to mail their inserts, but Kroger has held firm to newspapers. And if you wonder whether it’s working, try finding a parking place at a local Kroger any time of day. The company also added employees, modernized its stores and improved its service, all helping to boost its sales.

Financial wizard Warren Buffett — to the surprise of many — spent $142 million in 2012 to purchase 63 daily and weekly newspapers, a number of them about the size of the American Press.

The Washington Post said at the time, “So why would a multibillionaire dabble in a bunch of community papers? Because they’re the most reliable segment of the business.”

The Post added that “small weeklies and dailies have been plodding along. Not printing money, mind you, but making a living.”

Success of papers our size is attributed to the blanket coverage we can give local news. We have over a dozen reporters out in the field producing local stories daily. And many of those stories are picked up by The Associated Press, the nation’s leading news cooperative, and circulated throughout the state.

Yes, you can get national news from Yahoo and Google and from Facebook and Twitter, but think about the source of that news. The odds are most of it came from a local newspaper or television station somewhere in this country. They are the only ones that have reporters to send out and collect the news.

Some talk radio hosts love to berate newspapers, but they don’t hesitate to bring up news stories they have seen in USA Today or their local newspaper. If it weren’t for newspaper stories, they wouldn’t have much to talk about.

KPLC-TV, Channel 7, likes to make fun of newspaper classified advertising. You’ve probably seen the promotion that ends with a couple throwing their newspaper classified section into a trash can. The fact is television’s attempt at classified advertising can’t hold a candle to a newspaper’s effectiveness. And KPLC bought newspaper advertising when it had an important message for its viewers.

We know people are reading the paper. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be getting calls from those who have a beef about something they saw or didn’t see in the paper. Misidentify someone and see how quick you get a complaint. I don’t know how many times readers have called and wanted to know if we had any proofreaders. Misspell a name or miss an event, and you’re in trouble.

Readers can find out what their government agencies are doing, check the obituaries and publish news about their clubs, churches, reunions and special events. They also make anniversary, engagement, marriage and other announcements.

Then, there’s in-depth sports coverage of the pro, college and high school teams. You won’t find detailed stories and photos of those athletic teams anywhere else. Readers love to see their own amateur photographs in the Shutterbug section, and those who have something to gripe about have access to Letters to the Editor.

Those are just some of the things non-readers are missing. The newspaper business has gone through a tough transition in these rapidly changing times, but that’s progress. We are learning to deal with the Internet and adapt to other technological changes, just as we have always done. Even the new owners of some of the nation’s largest newspapers are optimistic.

Jeffrey P. Bezos, chief executive officer of Amazon.com, bought the Washington Post. He’s talking about a new “golden era” under his ownership. He said he plans to do like he has done so successfully at Amazon — put the customer first, invent and be patient. Readers are the same as customers, he said. They are still some of the best consumers in this country.

John Georges of New Orleans bought The Advocate of Baton Rouge. He has expanded by publishing the New Orleans Advocate and plans to do the same in Acadiana. Can he pull it off? Only time will tell, but at least it’s an encouraging development.

Don’t tell me people don’t read newspapers anymore. The circulation of papers like ours says otherwise. Talk to people in New Orleans who lost their daily Times-Picayune four days a week. Many are still angry.

Newspapers have gone through many changes since those old typewriter, copy paper, glue pot and smoke-filled newsroom days, and they are still around. They are going to have to adapt again, this time to the digital age. And if past history is any indication, those who do it well will survive.

    • • •

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or jbeam@americanpress.com