Keeping it local and reliable

There are many things that we depend on in our daily lives but take for granted without realizing their true value and importance. One such thing is the energy source for all of our electrical needs. When we flip on the light switch we expect — and take for granted — that the light will come on. The same is true when we adjust the thermostat that controls our heat and air conditioning. Electrical energy from our electric cooperatives is so dependable and used so frequently that we overlook its true value and importance in our daily lives.

Another example is our dependence on news and information to help us navigate throughout our day and the week ahead. We have a continual thirst for news and information and there is a seemingly ever-growing and endless supply coming at us across many platforms from what has progressed to a 24/7/365 news cycle. We have become so accustomed to having news and information at our fingertips, literally as it happens locally or around the world, that we often overlook not only the source, but the reliability of the source.

With all the new information platforms in broadcast and social media — including blogs, tweets and texts, several recent independent surveys show that most people still depend on a community newspaper as their primary and most trusted source for news and information. Despite reports in competing media, newspapers are still a strong and viable industry. One of Mark Twain’s famous quotes appropriately applies to today’s newspaper industry: “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

Community newspapers are actually growing their readership and total audience through their websites, e-editions, social media platforms and print products. To stay relevant, as well as to stay in business, newspapers have had to evolve their business model to expand both the type of news and information they provide readers, and the platforms on which it is delivered. Most newspapers wisely have embraced the Internet as an opportunity and did not accept it as a threat to their existence.

Newspapers and their websites carry a wide variety of news and information, from meetings of local government entities to school news, sports, weather, obituaries, advertising and, yes, even the widely popular crossword puzzle. Advertising is a key element of information found in newspapers. A vast majority of Illinoisans, 79.8 percent, believe state and local governments should continue to publish legal and public notices in newspapers as the best way to keep the public informed. Also, 70.2 percent said this helps to keep government more transparent and local officials more honest.

The National Newspaper Association’s latest survey shows “The local community newspaper is the primary source of information about the local community for 51.8 percent of respondents compared to seeking information from friends and relatives (16 percent) and TV (13.2 percent). Readers are seven times more likely to get their news from their community newspaper than from the Internet (7.4 percent). Less than 6 percent say their primary local news source is radio.”

In March 2011, the Illinois Press Association commissioned a statewide survey to determine current newspaper readership levels and patterns in Illinois, as well as market research on the use of newspapers in shopping and buying decisions. Each of the 102 Illinois counties was included in the survey of random households that included both subscribers and non-subscribers. Here are some of the Illinois results:

• 73.6 percent of adults have read at least one Illinois newspaper in the past week.

• Illinois newspapers reach more than 3.8 million households each week. On average, there are 2.33 readers per copy per household.

• Readership is strong across all age groups and household income levels: Ages 18-34, 58 percent; ages 35-54, 67 percent; ages 55+, 79 percent.

• Of adults ages 18-34, 56 percent have visited a newspaper website in the past 30 days.

Community newspapers have a long tradition of being a thread that helps to hold communities together and, also, to serve as an advocate for openness and transparency for all levels of government. By evolving and remaining relevant, community newspapers will remain strong for many years to come. Being so deeply rooted in the community that you’re so often depended upon and yet taken for granted is, well, actually quite an honor.

Following a 30-year career as a newspaper publisher, Dennis DeRossett is now Executive Director of the Illinois Press Association, which represents nearly 500 member newspapers.