Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Community newspapers rise

Something I've wanted to blog about for awhile, and with the silliest portion of the political silly season full upon us, now seems like a good time.  First, the business news as press release from last month, with as much of its own-horn-tooting as I could excise ...

Hearst (on July 29) announced that it has acquired the Houston Community Newspapers & Media Group from 1013 Star Communications. [...]

Houston Community Newspapers is a media group serving more than 25 local communities surrounding Houston’s greater metropolitan area with a total weekly print distribution of more than 520,000 and a digital reach of over 4 million per month to suburban Houston’s most appealing residential and business markets.

The acquisition furthers Hearst Newspapers’ reach into the Houston suburbs ...

The Houston Community Newspapers serves residents in Conroe, The Woodlands, Magnolia, Tomball, Spring, Cypress, Humble, Kingwood, Atascocita, Lake Houston, Cleveland, Dayton, Friendswood, Pearland, Pasadena, the Bay Area, Deer Park, Memorial, River Oaks, Bellaire, Katy and Sugar Land, among other communities in those areas.

Included in the acquisition are the Conroe Courier (daily) and the following 23 weeklies:

Blah blah blah.

The only area of the newspaper business that has shown growth in recent years are these smallest of the country's print publications, whose advertising revenues have not been as severely poached as have been the woolly mammoths like the Chron, and the medium- and smaller-circulation dailies like the Beaumont, Laredo, and Midland papers Hearst has owned since the mid-80's.

I read a statistic a couple years ago (which I don't feel like re-verifying this morning) that observed that the ad revenues for Google -- at something in excess of seven billion dollars annually -- was as much money as all the newspapers in the United States had collected that year.  Today we know Facebook has surpassed that mark while Google commanded $30 billion in 2014.  So in context you can see why the newspaper business has been so hammered.  Texas Monthly with the big picture:

The Greater Houston metropolitan area comprises eight counties spread across nearly 9,000 square miles, an area larger than New Jersey, with a population of around 6 million people. If it were a country, Houston would have the world’s thirtieth-largest economy. Covering such a vast metropolis has long proved a Sisyphean challenge to the city’s single major daily newspaper: the Houston Chronicle.

But help may be on its way to the Chronicle’s beleaguered newsroom. Last week the paper’s parent company, the Hearst Corporation, announced its acquisition of the Houston Community Newspapers and Media Group (HCN), a collection of 23 weeklies and one daily newspaper, the Conroe Courier.

With names like the Katy Rancher, the Atascocita Observer, and the Bay Area Citizen, the two dozen newspapers are intended to bolster the Chronicle’s suburban coverage, a goal that has historically been more honored in the breach than the observance. When Nancy Barnes moved to Houston three years ago to become the Chronicle’s editor-in-chief, she was shocked at how little attention the paper was paying to the city’s suburbs.

“It was just unbelievable to me—when I got here we did not have a single full-time reporter in the suburbs,” she said. Although the Chronicle now has a half dozen reporters focused on the suburbs, and ten regional weekly inserts, Barnes remained dissatisfied with the paper’s efforts. “It’s been impossible for me to get as many people out into the Houston metro region as I need, because we have six million people here. Every town has had enormous growth—there are 100,000 people in Pearland alone.”

The HCN papers, which have a total print distribution of 520,000 and a digital reach of 4 million pageviews per month, will finally give the Chronicle (circulation 860,000, digital reach of 134 million pageviews) the resources to match its mission as the city’s paper of record, she said. Over the next few months, the Chronicle will replace its own regional inserts with the newly acquired papers. 

One hundred thirty four million unique clicks a month averages out to about four and one-half million a day.  I am made to understand that the Chron by itself manages three million of those hits daily, which would be a factor of about three to six times their printed circulation.  That reach could be leveraged into a pretty vast, lucrative, and effective ad buy, especially if you want to attract new (which is to say lost long ago) cash flow streams like national (coupons) and political advertising.

It is the news gathering that will make the most difference long term, as Chron editor Barnes mentions above and details at the link.  The weekly town criers and village newses have a depth of reader and subscriber loyalty that essentially does not exist in any other medium; they're the only ones who publish Friday night high school football stories, to use one example, which is something every parent or grandparent who has a kid playing wants to read.  And at least until my generation makes way for the next one, that will hold.

More significantly -- and for the benefit of a recent graduate looking for a job -- is that Barnes is demonstrating a lot of influence with her New York shot-calling bosses, and if you're a young journalist who wants to make a career in the news business, or someone who wants a very fulfilling sales job, you could certainly do worse than attaching yourself to a company and a person who can see over the horizon and capitalize on market and industry trends.

So the next time you find yourself grumbling as you pick up one of those little papers in your driveway or on your lawn, take a minute and open it and read a few pages.  You might find yourself surprised at what you've been missing.

1 comment:

Gadfly said...

Good points about community newspapers in general. That said, suburban newspapers can be a special kettle of fish. Getting people interested in the suburb, rather than the central city only, is often a problem. From my several years of Dallas experience, this seems to be more true of minorities, whether it's election referenda (I more than once saw bumper stickers about Dallas votes out in the burbs) or other things.