Strong outlook

Thursday, December 16, 2010

I had the pleasure of speaking at Cassville High School's Career Day last week. The event is sponsored by the CHS Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) Chapter, and I was asked to speak about careers in journalism. I appreciated the opportunity to speak about a topic I am passionate about, and I really enjoyed my time with the students. I found them to be attentive, polite and generally interested in what I had to say. I also used a small portion of the time to conduct a little research while I had the students' attention.

About a third of the students raised their hands when I asked if they read a newspaper, and I was happy to discover that if they were going to read a paper, their local newspaper was the publication of choice. The majority of students said they read only the news that interested them, meaning they read the sports page or looked for pictures of their friends in the paper rather than reading each page. The Internet was the students' main connection to the greater world, and their reliance on technology supports the trend newspapers have been adapting to for over a decade now. We are learning how to connect with our readers in new and varied ways beyond the printed page - through our website, on Facebook and eventually we hope to offer a digital version of the Cassville Democrat that can be read in its entirety on-line.

Industry analysts predicted the demise of newspapers in the digital age, and I am one who believes newspapers are here to stay as long as we don't fight technology but rather search for ways to use it to make our news gathering and news products stronger. We won't survive if we don't adapt to new technology as it evolves. We need to continuously look for ways to reach out to our future readers -- the young people who I talked to last week who have grown up reading from a computer screen rather than holding a newspaper in their hands.

I also believe that when these teenagers get a little older and become more connected to communities where they live and work, they'll begin picking up the newspaper more and more. The latest survey conducted by the National Newspaper Association reveals that readership and reliance on community newspapers remains strong. Of those surveyed, 73 percent say they read a local newspaper at least once a week. Readers also say they read most or all of their community newspapers (78 percent), and of those going online for local news, 55 percent found it on the local newspaper's website, compared to 17 percent for sites such as Yahoo, MSN or Google, and 26 percent for the website of a local TV station.

The 2010 NNA survey, which was released last week, also shows that local community newspapers are the primary source of information about the local community for 49.3 percent of respondents. The next best source runs a distant second with friends and relatives for 18 percent of respondents and TV for 16 percent. Readers are also nearly seven times more likely to get their local news from their community newspapers than from the Internet.

With survey results like these, I'd say the outlook for newspapers is strong, especially for small community newspapers like the Cassville Democrat.

Lisa Schlichtman