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Print isn’t dead yet: 2011 community paper snapshot

Print close-upCommunity papers may have looked as if they were hit hard in 2010 when roughly 109 stopped printing. Add to that the 600-plus online sites launched by AOL’s hyperlocal Patch.com alone –  and it doesn’t look good. However, several early launches in 2011 and a study from the National Newspaper Association put it into perspective.

According to the study, 72 percent of those surveyed read a local newspaper each week. So although this year has seen several community papers merge and fold, it is obvious there is still a demand for the local paper – be it online or print.

Take the Andover American for instance. The weekly newspaper was launched late last month by Gatehouse Media in the Kansas community of Andover, filling the gap left when the Andover Journal Advocate folded in 2009. Joining a growing number of news organizations in the country, the American is online-first with the weekly print product being an extension of its online presence.

Also launched last month is the Indiana-based Current in Fishers. It joins four other weeklies already published by Current Publishing LLC. “With a horrendous number of news sources available online, covering local news that no other outlet is covering is the one thing these papers have to stay strong,” Jim Brown, executive associate dean emeritus at the Indiana University School of Journalism at IUPUI, told the Indiana Business Journal in reference to Current Publishing papers.

In Newport, N.H., a newspaper that was folded by its previous owner in 2008 has found new life in 2011. The Argus-Champion made its return last month, although initially running as an insert in the Eagle Times of Claremont. If successful, it will return to running as a stand-alone weekly paper. “We’ve been successful re-launching the other three newspapers – we had some meetings with the community leaders and we thought it was the right time,” said Harry Hartman, publisher of Eagle Printing and Publishing, which owns the Argus-Champion and re-launched the Eagle Times, Weekly Flea and the Message for the Week in 2009.

While other papers have been launching, some have re-launched as new and improved versions of themselves, such as the Apple Valley Review in Apple Valley, Calif. When the paper initially launched in 2009, it harvested content from its sister paper, the Daily Press. Now the paper will have its own content exclusive to the Review. Meanwhile in Nashville, Tenn., the Westview has re-launched under a new moniker, the Nashville Ledger. The weekly expanded its local business news coverage, redesigned its print layout and introduced a new online presence.

Despite the newspapers’ common mission to serve as the local news source in each area, it’s interesting to note that the emphasis on online versus print is quite different between them. The Andover American, for example, is Web-heavy and views its print product as secondary to the online edition. The Nashville Ledger has also taken the time to spruce up their website, while the Current in Fishers provides an aesthetically pleasing online edition.

Meanwhile, the Apple Valley Review’s site is very basic and the Argus-Champion exists without a Web presence at all. Don’t expect to see the Argus-Champion online anytime soon, noted Hartman. “We’ve been successful with a very limited Web presence,” he said. “We’re maintaining a very small Web presence and staying in touch with real newspapers.” Indeed, according to NNA’s report, only 9 percent of those surveyed said they read local news online very often.

Regardless of Web presence, community papers provide niche, local news that readers want and need. As we plow forth into 2011, papers will fall, but they will also launch in print, as well as online.

— Katrina M. Mendolera

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