FREDERICKTOWN — Like many industries across the country, newspapers have been hit hard by the recession and the frugal bankrolls of advertisers. A panel of newspaper publishers and editors, however, said they expect their community papers to weather the storm.
“Newspapers are not dying. They are going through a transformation as an industry,” said Frank Deaner, executive director of the Ohio Newspaper Association and moderator of Main Street Free Press Museum’s “The Future of Community Newspapers.”
Deaner told the crowd at the First Baptist Church the industry’s presence in Ohio has seen some changes but in all reality, it remains strong in the state. In 1933, there were 112 daily newspapers serving 87 different communities. Today, through mergers, he said, there are 82 daily papers in 82 communities.
“Nationally, we are led to believe newspapers are on their way to extinction. I believe we are not,” Deaner said.
On the panel were Judy Divelbiss, editor of the Knox County Citizen; Kim Ross-Palito, editor and owner of the Crestline Advocate; Joseph Palito, publisher and owner of the Crestline Advocate; and Jeff Donahue, community editor of the Hilliard and Marysville editions of ThisWeek.
All four panelists take the same approach to providing news to their readers with a specific interest in local news. From school board and village council meetings to high school sports and community events, the community paper strives to fill a niche big newspaper chains fail to fill in their ever decreasing presence.
Ross-Palito said the Crestline Advocate carries no national news unless it directly affects its readers. Because of this, the paper has developed a strong relationship with its readers that has certainly paid off in revenue.
“Business is down right now — it’s a tough time for everyone, large or small,” she said. “But we are able to corner the market in our town. Because the people are so invested in the paper, businesses respond to that.”
The Knox County Citizen editor Judy Divelbiss said that when her revenue is down, it is good to be able to rely on other Brown publications.
“People wonder why we have a six-page paper. It’s because of advertising. I can count on other papers in the network to pull us up if we are down,” Divelbiss said.
ThisWeek community papers made its bottom line goal for August, Donahue said. These weekly papers focus on the local happening in their circulation areas which are based on school districts rather than towns or villages.
Over the next five years, all three newspapers expect to see positive strides. By keeping content focused on the information that matters to the daily lives of their readers, panelists all believe the community newspapers will continue to make their mark with the hyper-local approach to journalism.
The panel discussion was the ninth annual program presented by Main Street Free Press Museum.
“There is a lot of education to do on the First Amendment rights,” said John E. Long, co-founder of the museum and former copy editor for the Wall Street Journal. “It is important that everyone understand the role of a free press in a democracy. We have to take it to a grass roots level.”
The museum will be open throughout the Fredericktown Tomato Show. Long expects to make changes and expand the museum in the years to come.