Community Journalism the role of the media

In today’s world, journalism really does matter

The bag that I carry gets a variety of reactions from an assortment of people.

A stark black bag with a simple white font featuring the phrase, ‘Journalism Matters, #Nottheenemy’ is met by some with scoffs, others with disdain and even a few positive, ‘Hey, I like your bag!’

Those I suspect come from closet journalists or perhaps subscribers to a newspaper.

“Journalism Matters!” takes on different meanings for all kinds of journalists.

June 28 will mark one year since five individuals who worked at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland were killed.

Gerald Fischman, 61, the newsroom’s editorial page editor; Rob Hiaasen, 59, an editor and features columnist; John McNamara, 56, a sports reporter and editor for the local weekly papers; Wendi Winters, 65, a local news reporter and community columnist; and Rebecca Smith, a sales assistant, all lost their lives.

The shooter took revenge about a story that had been published in the newspaper, a piece similar to ones that our papers have previously published. I would hazard a guess that the majority of publications throughout the newspaper industry have also published similar articles.

Their journalism mattered.

Last week, as yet another shooting unfolded in downtown Dallas, and Dallas Morning News photojournalist Tom Fox was caught in the middle.

When many of us, even trained professional journalists, would have simply hidden from the shooter, Fox captured images that would grace front pages across the nation.

His forethought, bravery and dedication to his craft were on display as the portrait of a shooter in an active shooting situation was captured.

His journalism matters.

For a local newsroom in neighboring Hunt County, staffers at the Greenville Herald Banner stood in shock after severe weather ravaged their community Wednesday, June 19.

Pushing aside worries about their own homes and safety, they reported to work capturing history and providing essential information to their citizens. They embraced the fact that journalism matters.

With no electricity, in oppressive Texas summer temperatures, they picked up the pieces and went to work. They put out a paper and continued to update mobile applications.

In a time of crisis, their journalism mattered. A lot.

With the fourth anniversary of the July 7, 2016 Dallas Police shooting on the horizon, many of us can recall images captured from both professional journalists and those citizen journalists who added to their reporting efforts.

Their memories helped honor the five heroes who tried their best to save lives and countless other officers who stopped the shooter.

Their journalism matters.

And so does ours.

Last year, 53 journalists across the world were killed for their efforts to bring the truth to light. Some died covering wars. Others were murdered over their work.

Without boots on the ground, facts and essential stories would remain hidden.

Truth, such as that brought to light by Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, would remain in the dark.

Khashoggi was killed in a Saudi Arabian consulate after criticizing the Saudi state.

Democracy dies in darkness.

Though not dodging bullets or avoiding car bombs, a passion for local journalism is a feat in itself. Long hours, limited resources and interacting on a daily basis with those who you report on is not for the faint of heart.

In this world, my passion for journalism has only grown. And so has my dedication for covering it.

If you aren’t a subscriber of The Times, or any of our other publications, I encourage you to do so. It’s one of the best investments $33 can get you.

After all, journalism matters.

Community Journalism Engagement Future of news

Newspapers need to explain how we work — more letters FROM the editor, not just TO the editor

Newspapers cover almost every imaginable topic, but when it comes to understanding and explaining their own roles in society, many community newspapers fall short.

They keep doing business and journalism pretty much like they always did, with digital media as a sideline because they can’t make much money at it. Their presence on social media is often desultory and uninspired, even though social media have become the dominant form of mass communication.

These newspapers are disengaging from their audiences – or perhaps we should say their former audiences and their potential audiences – at a time when they need to be more engaged than ever. There’s a war on journalism in America, and it’s not just being waged in Washington, D.C.

Today’s media maelstrom has left much of the audience uncertain about what a newspaper is, or what it is supposed to be. Newspapers need to explain that clearly and consistently, through all available forms of media (more on those later).

At a time when Americans are more dubious than ever about sources of information, newspapers remain the primary finders of fact. But for some reason they have been bashful about making that their brand, or even thinking of themselves as having a brand.

What is our brand? At last month’s Ohio News Media Association convention, I said it can be built around three Rs: reliable, relevant information, delivered responsibly. The third R most needs explanation.

When I was first learning journalism and the news business, one newspaper I read regularly ran a standing box on its editorial page. “Daily News Platform” told readers what the paper stood for. It’s been a long time since I saw such a device, but it’s time to bring it back, in a different way.

If I were running a newspaper today, its home page would have a button labeled “How We Work.” It would take readers to a page explaining the paper’s purpose and the ways it tries to achieve it. Shorter versions of it would run in print every day, usually on the editorial page.

“How We Work” would start by explaining the different forms of information media, to help readers understand the different and special roles that newspapers play in our society, and the challenges they face. Here’s the version I offered in Ohio:

This is a newspaper. It reports facts. To do that, we verify information, or we attribute it to someone else. That is called the discipline of verification, and it is the essence of a craft called journalism, which you find in news media.

There are two other types of media: social media, which have no discipline, much less verification; and strategic media, which try to sell you something: goods, services, ideas, politicians, causes, beliefs, etc.

Newspapers once relied on one form of strategic media, advertising, for most of their income. Today, social media get more of the ad money, so newspapers must get more income from the only other reliable place they can get it: their readers, in the form of subscriptions or single-copy sales. As you might guess, we prefer subscribers, so we hope to earn your respect and loyalty.

How do we do that? By being honest and straightforward about our business.

That means we must separate fact from opinion, reserving our own views for the editorial page. Of course, our views have some influence over what news we choose to cover, so if you think we’re not covering what should be covered, or have failed to separate fact from opinion, or make another mistake, we want you to tell us. You can do that privately, or publicly, in the form of a letter to the editor. If you raise an important issue that we think needs wider perspective, we may invite you to join us in a discussion on social media, and perhaps bring that discussion into the newspaper itself.

We want to hear from you. We are in the business of holding others accountable, so we must be accountable to you.

Accountability journalism is necessary if our democratic republic is to function the way the Founding Fathers intended. That’s why they put the First Amendment in the Constitution. It gives us great freedom, but with that freedom comes a great responsibility. If you think we are not living up to that legacy, please tell us.

That’s fewer than 350 words, about the length of a little-longer-than-usual letter to the editor in most papers. We need more letters from the editor, not just statements of general principle, but explanations of how and why we do certain things. If we demand transparency from officials and institutions, we must practice it ourselves. And build our brand at the same time.

One good example came from Brian Hunt, publisher of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, in a column he wrote in May 2017, titled “Community Journalism in the era of fake news.” We excerpted it on The Rural Blog; you can read it at Hunt’s best passage gave examples of the extreme without being judgmental:

“I’ve been challenged on why we include people of color in our newspaper. I’ve heard from readers who question why, when two-thirds of our region voted for Trump, the U-B would ever publish anything remotely critical of his presidency. I learn things in these conversations. Most notably, the people I speak with are not unaccomplished, not unintelligent, not uncaring.  We know these people. You know these people. Fake news and the isolated intolerance that can feed it gets to us all.”

After the column ran, Hunt said the paper got fewer calls, and fewer subscription stops, complaining about bias in the paper. Good journalism is good business, especially when you explain it.

community issues Community Journalism

Closing of newspapers leads to more local political polarization

The rise in political polarization in the U.S. in undeniable, but it may have nothing to do with the politics, according to a recent article published by the Nieman Foundation for Journalism.

National publications like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have seen tremendous growth in the age of polarization.

But what about local publications?

According to NiemanLab, in 2006, local American newspapers employed over 74,000 people and circulated to 52 million readers on weekdays. In 2017, this number dropped significantly to only 39,000 people employed by a local paper and a circulation of fewer than 31 million Americans.

The“death” of newspapers has been much-talked-about, but the political polarization that arises from a lack of local news hasn’t been discussed near as much.

The Journal of Communication” argues that losing a local newspaper can encourage citizens to rely on national media, which is typically overwhelmingly partisan, and can change their opinions while voting.

NiemanLab found that “voters were 1.9 percent more likely to vote for the same party for president and senator after a newspaper closes in their community, compared to voters in statistically similar areas where a newspaper did not close.”

Additionally, NiemanLab reported that split-ticket voting decreased by 2 percent in towns that lost their local newspaper.

What can we do to stop it?

My answer: Support your local newspaper.

A couple dollars toward a subscription to your local publication could make the difference between a city filled with polarized, one-sided news and one filled with honest, unbiased reporting — information needed to participate in your democracy.

Pay a few bucks. It’s worth it.

Community Journalism

How newspapers can set themselves apart in a crowded information market

Last month’s blogpost was a warning that the attack on journalism by certain actors on the public stage is having an effect on community newspapers, and that social media are driving readers to spend more time with national news than with local news. How can community papers can adapt to this radically changed news landscape?

To survive, newspapers must stop thinking of themselves as being in the newspaper business, or even in the news business; you’re in the information business, competing with all other sources of information for people’s time and attention – even if you are the only newspaper in your market.

Increasingly, rural communities have become bedroom communities, and the longer a commute someone has to work, the less likely they are to read their local newspaper, according to research by Eastern Kentucky University and the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky. The ubiquity of information through smartphones means you have to be where your readers are, and that means mobile.

The new landscape requires us to operate on multiple platforms. Your newspaper’s website should be attracting most of its traffic from social media. If it’s not, you’re probably not getting enough traffic.

And we need to be on social-media platforms not just to drive traffic, but to help people understand the difference in social media and the news media.

We also need to stop saying “the media” when we mean “the news media,” in order to distinguish ourselves from actors in the media who are more about opinions and an agenda than about facts and public service.

And we need to stop using “the media” as a singular noun. It’s more plural than ever, and it’s important for readers to understand that. The media are. And they are many different things.

If we don’t distinguish ourselves from our competitors in the information market, we are lost. The fundamental difference in social media and news media are a discipline of verification, as defined in The Elements of Journalism, by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel.

Those elements have shifted a bit, but not substantially, in the new landscape of journalism. They are a guide not only for journalists as we do our work, but for citizens to understand how we work and why we do what we do.

Here are the elements, which would make a good standing box or filler on your editorial page, with a brief explanation of each:

Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth – not to some absolute or philosophical truth, but practical truth “by which we can operate on a day-to-day basis.” And that includes being transparent about sources and methods, so readers can make fully informed judgments.

Its first loyalty is to citizens – not to the bottom line of whoever is publishing the journalism. In the current environment, this test may be the most difficult for some publishers.

Its essence is a discipline of verification – not objectivity, which is rarely achievable because we are human beings, but objectivity of method: testing the truth of information so our biases don’t get in the way.

Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover – not pure neutrality, but an arm’s-length relationship that keeps our essential independence from being compromised.

It must serve as an independent monitor of power – not just keeping an eye on government, but on all facets of society, including business and nonprofit organizations.

It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise – not just offering an outlet for discussion, but improving the quality of the debate with verified information.

It must strive to keep significant things interesting and relevant – in other words, making readers want to read the news that they need to read. This is more important than ever in the new age.

It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional – an even more challenging task when competing for time and attention, but all the more important to build and maintain confidence and trust.

Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience – speak out against poor journalism, and allow others to do so.

Citizens, too, have rights and responsibilities – to be responsible on social media. That may be too much to hope for, but if we ask them to be, that’s reminder that information needs to be more about facts than opinion.

While we need to do a better job explaining ourselves, ultimately we will not be judged on the arguments we make, but by the work that we do: reporting news that’s important and relevant, and more.

Even if you successfully compete in the information business, that’s not really enough to be a complete community newspaper.

You also have to be in the deliberation business. Deliberation is how democratic societies make decisions, and one of the best forums for deliberation is the newspaper – an editorial page with lots of letters.

And, ultimately, you also need to be in the leadership business, because there are times when a newspaper must take a stand and lead its community in what it thinks is the right direction it needs to go.

Nothing else in a community can do these three things as well as a newspaper, and now is the time to do it better than ever. Make yourself essential.

In your quest for people’s time and attention, you are also competing with other media for readers’ confidence and trust, which drive time and attention. Be worthy of that trust.

Community Journalism Credibility

Distrust of national media may affect the credibility of local newspapers

Trust in “the mass media, such as newspapers, TV and radio” in polls taken by the Gallup Organization was at 32 percent last year, the lowest ever – and was significantly lower than the 40 percent recorded in 2015.

Rural newspapers have often presumed that such trends don’t affect them, because they’re in closer touch with smaller communities, where readers know the people at the paper. That is not as safe an assumption as it once was, based on some events, trends and issues we’ve reported lately in The Rural Blog.

For example, a Feb. 5-6 Emerson College poll of registered voters, weighted to reflect turnout in the 2016 election, found them evenly divided about the Trump administration’s truthfulness, but by 53 to 39 percent, they considered the news media untruthful.

The Pew Research Center found in early 2016 that there was little difference in the trust of local and national news outlets. About 22 percent of Americans said they trust local news outlets a lot, and 18 percent said that of national news sources. Recently, rural and community journalists have voiced concern that the attacks on “big media” are hurting “little media,” too.

One is Mark Smith, editor of the Davenport Times in Lincoln County, Washington, just west of Spokane, who was a minister for 14 years. He told columnist Sue Lani Madsen of The Spokesman-Review that the current atmosphere reminds him of the 1980s scandals involving televangelists, which “forced him to defend his profession at a local level,” Madsen wrote, quoting him: “There is the same sense now that if one media source is bad, they all are.”

Madsen wrote, “He believes he’ll weather the fake news and biased-media storm because he’s built relationships in the community to establish trust and credibility. . . . It’s tougher to build trust and credibility, to make that human connection, as the circle gets larger.” You can read the rest of our story on The Rural Blog at

At the state level, local newspapers still have influence, but in some states the anti-media political atmosphere is threatening them. Tom Larimer, executive director of the Arkansas Press Association, wrote that he believed a rash of bills to limit government transparency was fueled by “anti-media sentiment in Washington, D.C.” Our blog item is at

 Attacks on traditional news media and the new dominance of sola media have left people in rural areas disconnected from the facts about national issues, the president of the Kentucky Press Association said at a Society of Professional Journalists forum in Lexington Feb. 23.

“You have people who do not trust anything outside of their own bubble, their own county, their own city,” said Ryan Craig, publisher of the Todd County Standard in Elkton, for nine years the state’s top small weekly.

Craig said he occasionally posts national news stories on Facebook and is asked how he knows they are true.

“I have to tell them … ‘You live in this very rural bubble, and the algorithms for Facebook that you keep popping on all the time have pretty well rules out what I consider balanced journalism that comes into your life.’ The only balanced journalism … they may get is a regional or statewide newspaper, or a local newspaper, and maybe something off the Nashville television stations.”

Craig said he hears people say they read his newspaper, President Trump’s Twitter feed and the Facebook pages of their Republican governor and congressman. “They consider that their news source,” he said. “The problem is, nobody’s asking the source if what they’re saying is even so.” The rest of our blog item about the event is at

Social media limit our exposure to different viewpoints and hurt democracy and journalism, Harvard University law professor and author Cass Sunstein says in his new book, #Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media. You’ll hear more about the book; you can read our blog item about it at

Social media’s focus on national news has hurt mid-major newspapers. “There is so much more national and international news available to people, it has changed what people are interested in,” Tom Rosenstiel, director of the American Press Institute, told The Guardian. During the election, “I saw clear and distinct evidence that people were consuming more national news and less local.” We picked up the story at

In a speech at the University of Kentucky, Rosenstiel said news media need to adjust to the age of social media, but can do so without compromising their principles. The co-author of The Elements of Journalism showed how each element has been affected by the new environment and how journalists and their audiences can adapt. You can read our write-up at

One essential element of journalism is what Rosenstiel and co-author Bill Kovach call “the discipline of verification,” which social media lack. Traditional media can reinforce their journalistic brand and the public trust by explaining that, and showing audience how to spot “fake news” and discern facts from “alternative facts,” Danielle Ray of our staff wrote on The Rural Blog, at Read her informative blog item at

If you do or see stories that are relevant across rural areas, please send them to me at [email protected].


Circulation Community Journalism

The readers we have vs. the readers we want: a circulation dilemma

One of the dilemmas faced by any medium is the extent to which journalists give readers what they want – no matter what that is.

So do we cater to the needs of the readers we have, or do we try to include content that reaches the readers we want?  And if we do that, what if the readers we want never see the content we included to reach them?

Obviously, there are no easy answers.  And newspapers aren’t alone in wrestling with this.  There are movies that win awards and movies that draw huge box office – and often those are two different kinds of movies.  The questions that must be answered:  Do we give our audience what it wants or what we think it needs?  And do we cater to our current audience or the one we’re trying to reach?

We had a note this week from Rick Craig of the Hood County News.  We applaud the News for trying to find some answers in light of a recent readership study.  Here’s what Rick wrote:

We recently completed a readership survey. We polled current subscribers and past subscribers that did not renew their subscription to our twice-weekly community newspaper. One thing that came from the survey is that our readers (both past and present) do not care much for sports, school district news or news about school activities. This is understandable since more than 73 percent of those responding to the survey are age 55-plus.

 This leads to the question that I am sure is being asked in many newspapers: Do we continue or increase the school news and sports in our paper to attract the parents of those participating in these events? Or do we cut back on those areas and focus on the areas that have a greater impact on our current readers?

 If we cut back on the news for parents with school-age children, are we giving up on acquiring younger readers to replace our older one?

Rick asked that we share the questions they are wrestling with at the News, and solicit input from other Texas newspapers.  You may not have done the survey, but as our readership ages, we all probably have similar issues.

Have you made significant adjustments to your content to appeal to a certain demographic?

And perhaps most important, what are you doing to reach younger readers?

Advertisng Community Journalism

What you’re missing when you try to sell ads to national chains

You’ve tried to sell advertising to the manager of the store that’s a part of a national or regional chain.

And you’ve been told, “I don’t make those advertising decisions here.  I’ll give you the contact information for our regional office.”  You emailed and you called, but you either got no reply at all or were told that the store’s advertising commitments had already been made.

So you’re left wondering:  What do I have to do to get agencies and major accounts to pay more attention to my paper, here in small-town Texas? 

The good-news answer is this:  It is possible. But you need to have a presence on Standard Rate and Data Service, published by Kantar Media. It is simply the Media Buyers’ Bible.

Publishers listed in get daily visibility with active media buyers and planners. Advertisers have for years wanted to reach local markets that are connected to their community. Thanks to third party data (like the info in Circulation Verification Council readership studies), media planners are more comfortable than ever working with community publications.

How do publishers in small markets tell their story at the right time to the right person on the other side of the country? Successful ones make sure their info on SRDS is accurate and up to date. When you make it easy for a media buyer to find you, only good things can happen.

How do you get your paper listed in SRDS? First, you might want to have a look at what the data shows for a buyer interested in your market. I recommend my good friend David Crawford at Kantar media. [email protected] will get you started. He can give you login credentials to view the database and answer your questions. He can also send you the form to fill in your info to submit to SRDS and that will get your listing live.

When viewing the data for your market, you will discover that some media seem to be ranked higher (and are therefore more visible than others).  A paper that is audited by Circulation Verification Council (CVC) gets that added benefit because CVC automatically submits data to SRDS when the audit is completed and they purchase that elevated listing. For CVC info contact [email protected]

More on CVC in an upcoming blogpost.  But for now, look into an SRDS listing.  It’s free, and it’s the only way to get noticed by national media buyers.

Community Journalism

Ideas and resources for localizing important stories

The Rural Blog has had a big basket of interesting and useful stories recently. Let’s see how many we can cram into one column.

How much does a renter need to earn in your county to afford a two-bedroom apartment there? The national average is $20.30 an hour. The Washington Post broke it down by county (well, for most counties) and you can find your county here.

What are critical access hospitals? Where are they? Which ones have closed? North Carolina Health News reported on a study of them and published a map showing their 1,284 locations. The Daily Yonder picked it up and added a map showing those that had closed. You can find Texas closures here.

Is your county among the 220 in the U.S. that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention deems most at risk of an outbreak of HIV or hepatitis from IV drug use? The Wall Street Journal did a map.

One of our health advisers says that if a problem is in a community, so is the solution. Clinton County, Kentucky, is an example of a place that is tackling child obesity head-on. Kentucky Educational Television did a story.

The biggest health problem in America is smoking, but few people on Medicaid take advantage of smoking-cessation programs, especially in the South. States have county-by-county figures on this so you can localize the story. You can find those figures here.

For urban Americans, the most common image of rural America is agriculture. But the number of counties dependent on farming dropped 13 percent in the last decade, and the number dependent on energy production rose by 60 percent. The Agriculture Department produced maps showing the changes and what counties are dependent on farming, energy, manufacturing and recreation.

USDA also reported that rural areas received only 6 to 7 percent of private foundation grants awarded from 2005 to 2010, prompting renewed calls for more rural philanthropy. Read about it here.

Also from USDA came a report that the population loss in rural and small-town America appears to be ending, as confidence in the economy improves and rural people have more children. Here’s the report.

However, the “digital divide” between rural and urban America’s internet service persists, as the standard for broadband gets faster. Brian Whitacre of Oklahoma State University wrote about it for USA Today.

In the Upper Midwest, an area where many counties have lost population, the University of Nebraska has a program to help communities better market themselves online. Read about it here.

Only a third of U.S. public railroad crossings have flashing lights, and they are especially scarce in rural areas, where some crossings don’t have arms and drivers are pretty much on their own. Stateline did the story and we picked it up here.

The Southern Baptist Convention voted in June to discourage its adherents to not display the Confederate battle flag. It makes you wonder how many SBC churches will tell their members about it, and how many local newspapers will report it. Our story is here.

The Rural Blog usually relies on traditional media sources, not those that advocate, but every now and then an advocacy publication does a good reporting job on an issue that needs explaining. Such was the case with the Americans United for Separation of Church and State about continued politicking from the pulpit, in defiance of a 1954 law that denies charitable tax exemptions to such churches. We added a link to the other side of the story.

Much of our recent coverage has been about newspapers and their role in democracy.

Editor and Publisher examined how some rural newspapers have remained successful and relevant:

The Press-Sentinel of Jesup, Georgia, is leading a crusade to stop a local landfill from being expanded to accept coal ash:

The Lebanon (Ky.) Enterprise published the names of people who signed a petition opposing a new school tax, and defended its move in an editorial:

Far out on Long Island, the “tough-minded but fair” East Hampton Star perseveres in the face of online raiders who “slow dance” with advertisers:

Each week, The Valley News of Lebanon, New Hampshire, runs a feature obituary of someone with local ties:

Longtime editor and reporter Steve Buttry, now at Louisiana State University, offered advice on how to get local stories from national stories:

Our best-read story about newspapers recently was on the essay contest that our friend Ross Connelly, publisher of The Hardwick (Vt.) Gazette, is using to sell the weekly newspaper after failing to find a buyer: We wish him well.



Community Journalism

What is a ‘newspaper of general circulation’?

Folks in the newspaper business, as well as the public sector, may often come across the term “Newspaper of General Circulation.” It sounds official enough, but what does it really mean?

By law, certain legal notices are required to be published in a “Newspaper of General Circulation.” These may include (but are certainly not limited to)  a probated will, a bad audit at the school district or a public tax sale.

By publishing these notices, the affected party has made an effort to inform the public as to the legal action taking place. Publishers charge for these postings. By charging to run them, they have to run. If they were not paid ads, posting them would be at the discretion of the editor.

And we all know how editors can be.

So, this takes us back to the term “Newspaper of General Circulation.” Though publishing styles and formats for these required ads are as varied as the office that require their postings, the one constant is they must be published in a “Newspaper of General Circulation.”

This became an issue in our office a few months back when a local school district posted some legals with us instead of the competitor down the road in which they had a history of running legal ads.

The posting had to do with some real estate and construction deals. Soon a petition was circulated to host a referendum on the actions the district had in the works.

A lawyer wrote a letter to the district, on behalf of the petitioners, demanding the district cease their already planned project.

There were three arguments upon which the litigator based his demands. The first two reasons were to argued by people not in my line of work, but the third directly affected our standing as a newspaper.

Their lawyer said we weren’t a “Newspaper of General Circulation” in the community.

Granted, the district had only, in the past two years, started sending us their legals instead of the competitor down the road. But that was not my concern. Their business was very appreciated, but even more so unsolicited.

All of this leads the original question: What is a “Newspaper of General Circulation?”

While Texas has no statute defining a “Newspaper of General Circulation,”many states do. As such, the consensus among other state statutes and virtually every state press association in America is that:

A “newspaper of general circulation” is a newspaper that is:

  • issued at least once a week (daily newspapers are included in this description);
  • intended for general distribution and circulation; and
  • sold at fixed prices per copy per week, per month or per year, to subscribers and readers without regard to business, trade, profession or class.
  • Basically, any daily or weekly newspaper that is sold to the public in general is a “newspaper of general circulation.”

A “Newspaper” is defined as:

  • a printed paper or publication;
  • bearing a title or name;
  • reporting local or general news;
  • printing editorial comment, announcements, miscellaneous reading matter, commercial advertising, classified advertising, legal advertising, and other notices;
  • must be at least four or more pages long per publication;
  • published continuously during a period of at least six (6) months, or as the successor of such a printed paper or publication issued during an immediate prior period of at least six (6) months;
  • is circulated and distributed from an established place of business to subscribers or readers;
  • is sold for a definite price;
  • either entered or entitled to be entered under the Postal Rules and Regulations as periodical matter (formerly second class mail); and
  • subscribed for by readers at a fixed price for each copy, or at a price fixed per year.

Free newspapers are not considered “newspapers of general circulation.” Legal advertising cannot be done in free newspapers even if they meet all of the above requirements. So, if a newspaper just shows up in your mailbox at no charge, it does not satisfy the legal requirements for public notices. (except in one very vague stipulation for one county in Texas, but that should be the subject for a separate blog).

Texas has gone as far as issuing an Attorney General’s opinion about Newspapers of General Circulation in 2005, issued by (now) Governor Greg Abbott. The case involved the Harrison County Commissioners Court when a second newspaper popped up in Marshall. The Commissioners wanted to have the discretion to determine in which newspaper to publish.

Attorney General Abbott, in the opinion, defined a newspaper in much simpler terms than those outlined above. The opinion states:

“Texas statutes do not define ‘newspaper of general circulation.’ In Attorney General Opinion JC-0223*, this office said that a ‘newspaper of general circulation’ is a newspaper as defined by section 2051.044, Government Code,  that has ‘more than a de minimis number of subscribers among a particular geographic region, [and] a diverse subscribership.’ Tex. Att’y Gen. Op. No. JC-0223 (2000) at 2, 10. In that opinion, this office recognized that the factors constituting a newspaper under the Government Code could be determined on an objective basis, see id. at 6, but that the ‘general circulation’ criteria involving subscribership were subjective and involved factual considerations to be resolved by the body that is to arrange for publication of the notice.”

The footnotes of the opinion further explain JC-0223 (noted by the asterisks above) by saying:

*”Attorney General Opinion JC-0223 also said that a newspaper of general circulation is one that publishes ‘some items of general interest to the community.’ Tex. Att’y Gen. Op. No. JC-0223 (2000) at 2. This criteria is duplicative of item (1) in the definition of ‘newspaper.’”

The summary states that the Harrison County Commissioners had the discretion to choose in which newspaper to publish as long as it met the requirements outlined above.

Based upon this, industry practice and common sense; it became apparent the Whitesboro News-Record is certainly a newspaper of general circulation in the community in question.

We have rack sales and subscribers there. We cover local news and general interest stories there. We:

  1. devote not less than 25 percent of its total column lineage to general interest items;
  2. publish once each week;
  3. enter as second-class postal matter in the county where published; and
  4. have been published regularly and continuously much longer than 12 months.
Community Journalism Future of news

“Do you think newspapers are endangered?” A community journalism perspective

So what if someone asks:  “Do you think animals are endangered?”

There’s literally no answer to that.  We know that mountain gorillas, elephants, rhinos and tigers are critically endangered and we may well see their extinction in our lifetime.

But other animals exist in abundance – rats, rabbits, dogs, deer and hundreds of others.

And that’s the problem with the question newspaper people are asked so often:  “Do you think newspapers are endangered?”

Here’s your answer for the next time someone asks: “Depends.”

And mostly, it depends on the size of the market.  Metropolitan dailies are in a world of hurt because their business model doesn’t work anymore. Large cities are media-saturated and there are countless places to get the news – and countless places for businesses to advertise.

Just over a decade ago metros made money from display advertising, classified advertising and circulation.  The big display accounts realized that there were many other ways to get their message out.  Classified died, killed by Craigslist and similar sites.  And circulation declined in the face of many other places to get the news.  Of course, as circulation declined, advertisers noted the dwindling audience for their commercial messages.

Depressing, huh?  But the metro newspaper is like the endangered animal – don’t assume that because lowland gorillas may die out that we’ll soon have no dogs or deer or rabbits. They exist in superabundance.

And people who would never lump all animals together find it easy to lump all newspapers together.  Lots of folk don’t realize that there are some 7,000 paid circulation weekly papers and around 1,300 daily papers with circulations less than 25,000 in the U.S.

So that’s around 8,300 community newspapers with a circulation of more than 45 million readers. Counting the pass-along rate (the number of people who actually read the paper, as opposed to the number who purchase it), readership of community newspapers in the U.S. exceeds 150 million a week.

Or take Texas.  Our largest newspaper is the Dallas Morning News, with more than 400,000 circulation.  But the No. 10 paper in circulation, the Lubbock Avalanche Journal, has just over 27,000 circulation.  So obviously, most newspapers in Texas and in the U.S. are community papers.

Community newspapers still dominate in smaller communities.  Rather than just being one voice among many as with their metro brethren, they are often the only game in town.  You want to know what happened at City Council?  Why school taxes are going up? How the local teams are doing? Who was involved in that big wreck on Center Street?  Why the old warehouse burned down? What’s for lunch tomorrow at your kid’s elementary school?  Check out the community paper – because you won’t find it anywhere else.

One rural publisher, in a speech to a journalism conference, put it this way:  “To our readers, we are not the newspaper, we are their newspaper. Down the block at Rogers Mini Stop, we sell more than a hundred papers every week. If our press run is late we get frantic calls from the Rogers family. They have a store full of irate customers who want their papers now…. We all know the traditional reasons — the little stories that never would be considered ‘news’ anyplace else. Our readers really care about those things.”

So when someone asks why newspapers are dying, explain that they are talking about a small – if highly visible – part of newspaper journalism.  Most papers are community papers, not metros.

And we’re doing quite well, thank you.