Community newspapers are thriving in this country

Late last week, the publisher, the editor and two other staff members from The Expositor attended the annual convention of the Ontario Community Newspapers Association, this paper’s provincial professional organization.

The professional experience of the Expositor’s participants covered the whole gamut of the various departments and activities required to publish a newspaper and, among us all, we participated in sessions that covered every aspect of the modern newspaper business.

Two things came through loud and clear: the community newspaper industry is healthy in this province and country and, in fact, just now there is a record number of newspapers doing business, successfully, across Canada.

Newspaper advertising purchases, as a measure of business confidence in this tried and true medium, are increasing and newspapers remain securely in control of the second largest share of advertising purchases, after television.

This is a fact that has not changed in more than 20 years.

The other thing that we heard in the various professional sessions that we attended is that the newspaper industry, in general, does a lousy job of communicating its success to the public.

This is, of course, especially significant in light of the growth of new media (the Internet and other related digital options) and the earlier prediction that this bright, shiny new object would be harmful to newspapers.

The fact is, however, that the newspaper industry (worldwide, in fact) has done an excellent job of adapting digital media to augment its reach into the community as new media (the Internet and all the social media currently available) has been embraced by the newspaper sector as another way of communicating news to its community—and beyond.

Your own community paper, The Expositor, has a significant horse in this particular race as our own website, www.manitoulin.ca, was judged to be the best of any among Ontario’s community press. Your paper received this particular recognition and also took top honours in a new category called “Surfer’s Choice” whereby other newspapers vote on the newspaper websites they prefer. The Expositor was also a finalist in this peer selection process and learned Friday evening that our website had proven the most popular and professional by people in the newspaper industry, in addition to being judged as the best newspaper website by the judging panel tasked with making the choice.

The Expositor, and the Manitoulin West Recorder as well, are guilty as charged in not communicating more about our role in the community and our successes and so the very least we should be doing, as we have just done in this commentary, is to talk about the success of the newspaper industry in Canada in general and our own tangible recent achievements.

The point was made over and over at last week’s sessions that the newspaper industry is mostly taken for granted: it’s the senior news service and has survived other challenges where its demise was predicted. These include radio, then television, then mass flyer distribution and, most recently, the predicted threat from the Internet and its anticipated ability to draw resources away from traditional media, including newspapers.

But newspapers large and small have proven, for nearly 100 years, to be nothing if they aren’t smart and resourceful and very quick to adapt to new technologies. This has ranged from the change from hand-set type, where stories and ads were created in type by compositors one letter at a time to the much quicker linecasting machines (such as the famous Linotype) in the early years of the twentieth century to the now-common practice of newspaper reporters posting their stories and photos directly to their papers’ websites from the scene of the action.

In our own case, since we’re told we should do a better job of blowing our own horn, it’s a fact that The Expositor’s circulation has, over at least the past 40 years, never decreased but has continually increased. This is a claim that many papers, especially daily newspapers, can’t make but the Manitoulin Island experience for The Expositor is not an uncommon one among other members of the community press in their own particular markets.

Newspapers in smaller communities, if they are doing the job for which they are uniquely suited, provide information and analysis on a timely basis.

They also efficiently deliver the news of what’s for sale, what events are coming up, real estate for sale, notices of births and deaths in an efficient and reliable way and in a medium that stays in the home (or business) for several days where the same information can be reviewed and discussed with family members, friends and co-workers.

All of this is traditional newspaper business, of course, but in most communities now, the newspaper’s website is also the primary portal.

The newspaper industry is nothing if not adaptable.

For your own paper, The Expositor will try to rise to the challenge and do a little more self promotion, both for itself and the Manitoulin community and on behalf of the industry of which it’s been a part for nearly 134 years.

This commentary is, perhaps, the beginning of this kind of positioning.