I recently had lunch with a college friend who was back in South Dakota for a few days when our conversation turned to newspapers and their future.
My friend Gary still subscribes to his hometown newspaper, the Grant County Review in Milbank. (In favor of full disclosure, Debbie Hemmer, who along with Holli Seehafer co-publishes the Review, is president of our newspaper association this year.)
Gary told me that he knows more about what is happening in Milbank these days than he does about the suburban community outside Pittsburgh, Pa., where he has lived the past several years. There is no newspaper where he lives, Gary told me. He doesn’t know what his property taxes will do next year, if the local school enrollment is up or down or what the big excavation project down the street from his home is all about. There is no local newspaper to tell him these things and to connect him to what’s happening in the community.
“Not having a local newspaper leaves a hole,” Gary told me.
Having grown up in South Dakota, Gary knows the value and importance a newspaper brings to a community. The fact that many years later Gary still subscribes to his hometown newspaper speaks to that value and allegiance.
That is why newspapers matter. And, as the theme for this year’s National Newspaper Week celebration highlights, that is why “Journalism matters. Now more than ever.”
As we carried on our lunch conversation about newspapers and the challenges facing the news media industry these days, Gary asked me if the turbulent times and seemingly daily vitriol at the national level were impacting newspapers in South Dakota.
No, I didn’t think so, I told Gary. But certainly other forces and trends are at work that indeed are impacting newspapers.
Those of us in the news business talk a lot about the value of subscribing to your local newspaper. We urge people to support their local newspaper by buying it and reading it. News that informs you about your local community has value and it’s important to recognize that value by subscribing to your local newspaper.
But beyond just newspaper readership is the very significant role that advertising has in a newspaper’s economic sustainability. Subscriptions alone are not enough to keep a newspaper’s doors open.
Never before has there been more competition for a business’s advertising and marketing dollars, especially the past 20 years or so as advertising on the internet has exploded. Isn’t it amazing how you can search online for something and then suddenly that thing begins showing up in ads everywhere you go on the internet?
Just two companies – Facebook and Google – account for two-thirds of all digital advertising sold in the United States these days. There are billions of dollars in advertising sold annually by these two companies alone. They more than just dominate the online advertising world; some say Facebook and Google control it. A “digital duopoly” is the term used to describe their dominance.
That digital dominance reverberates throughout the news media landscape, even among South Dakota community newspapers.
All of which is a winding way to the point I wish to make: South Dakota newspapers – especially ink-on-paper newspapers – continue to be the go-to source locally for advertising.
The bottom line is that we need advertisers to continue to utilize their local newspaper not only because it will help sustain that local newspaper and local journalism, but also it’s good for business. Advertising in the local newspaper works.
Keep informed about what’s happening in your community by subscribing to your local newspaper. Keep in mind the reach and value of your local newspaper when you need to advertise. Doing those things are good for what matters for newspapers and for journalism in South Dakota and beyond.
David Bordewyk is executive director of South Dakota Newspaper Association, which represents the 125 weekly and daily newspapers in the state. Oct. 7-13 is National Newspaper Week.