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Community newspapers in North America have stabilized

Photo courtesy KC Toh via Flickr

Digital campaigns and social Web interaction may grab the headlines in public relations trade media, but most PR pros I talk to still spend plenty of time and effort reaching out to community newspapers. So after a period of contraction that has reshaped the media industry, what’s the state of the community newspaper in 2011?

Doing some historical analysis on Cision’s media database, I discovered that weekly newspapers serving towns and neighborhoods have stabilized since the dark days of 2009. In that year, Cision tracked the shuttering or consolidation of more than 500 community newspapers in the United States and Canada. Year to date in 2011, we’ve tracked fewer than 50 such scenarios. Since 2005, more than 1,800 community newspapers have closed their doors, a 19-percent decline that leaves about 7,700 operating today.

Community newspaper shutdowns in the U.S. and Canada, 2005-2011

 

The original source of what’s come to be known as hyperlocal news, these papers have weathered the storm by covering their turf in ways most relevant to people who live there, whether that’s local business news, police reports, youth sports or something more controversial. Many are being careful about what they put online to avoid cannibalizing their print products, most famously TriCityNews of Asbury Park, NJ, a paper whose conservative approach to online media was the subject of much debate after David Carr’s piece a few years back.

The digerati may howl that this amounts to an unsustainable overprotectiveness and resistance to change, but would the rate of decline be higher if local papers shared more content for free online? Despite the severity of contraction over the past 6 years, I think this small but important segment of the media landscape has fared pretty well under the circumstances. What say you?

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