For hometown newspapers, the glass is half-full

By Andy Hobbs, Mirror editor

Newspapers aren’t digging their graves yet, even if it looks like they shop for burial plots.

Take the recent announcement to close the King County Journal this month. That daily paper has lost money and readers for years.

To cover the region, several twice-monthly papers tailored to specific King County communities will be distributed twice a week, just like The Federal Way Mirror.

This type of community journalism could be the printed newspaper’s last great stand.

As technology and tastes changed over several decades, so did the news business. Radio and television started as threats before newspapers learned to adapt and cooperate.

Now it’s the Internet.

Demand for quality newsgathering will never go away. Neither will the newspaper itself, even as circulation among dailies shrinks.

But to survive in today’s diverse media market, newspaper owners may want to think in terms of getting four quarters rather than a dollar bill.

Big-city dailies’ pockets may be deep, but their coverage can’t always touch the bottom. They skim a large regional surface, and often face limits as they stretch to cover it all.

Hometown papers directly connect to communities they cover. These papers reflect a pulse found among people they highlight. They feature familiar names and personal stories that readers clip and save.

From a financial view, community newspaper publishers nationwide see the potential, especially when advertisers want to target particular markets.

Of course, large dailies offer vital local, regional and state coverage. They feature exceptionally talented writers and editors.

Just remember that amid all hubbub over declining circulation and advertising revenues, big newspapers still rake in millions of dollars. Double-digit profit margins are the rule.

“These are indeed challenging times for newspapers, especially larger ones, such as ours,” said Keith Moyer, publisher of the Star-Tribune in Minneapolis, on his newspaper’s recent purchase by a group of private investors. A gold standard among major U.S. daily newspapers, the Star-Tribune is still quite profitable, according to a report.

At these big-league dailies, reporters can get laptops and generous expense accounts. Many spend weeks or months on a single story, traveling halfway across the world for an article that runs in one issue.

The thought of access to such luxuries at a small community newspaper would make an editor’s head spin. Yet throwing around money like that buys time to produce masterpiece international journalism. That’s how they get those five-part heart-grabbing stories detailing the lives of AIDS orphans in Africa or tsunami victims in Thailand.

A newspaper serving your particular suburban city may not boast the same Pulitzer-worthy reading as a Seattle daily, but ideally, it hits closer to home.

In today’s media, people flock to familiar flavors. They seek a sense of ownership over sources of entertainment and information.

What hometown newspapers lack in finances, they make up for in focus. That means time spent examining the community with a thoughtful magnifying glass, capturing the nuances or quirks of everyday life.

It means still sending ripples of influence. Just a little smaller and, sometimes, more colorful.

Consider that notion next time you pick up a local metro daily and can’t find articles about your neck of the woods.

Andy Hobbs can be reached at editor@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

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