Newspapers: Let’s keep a good thing going

Go ahead – give your newspaper a hug.

Just a little squeeze of the hand will show you care.

No, a kiss would be too much.

But it is National Newspaper Week.

So, show your favorite local information source some love.

You know what they say: You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone ...

YES, YOUR NEWSPAPER has changed a lot over the years.

More newsy. More opinionated. More colorful.

More interesting, too, we think.

Do you ever find yourself talking about something you read in the newspaper?

Some people say the newspaper is dying. Don’t believe it.

We’re doing quite well, thank you.

We should have many, many more years together.

When people tell us the newspaper is dying, we offer a wager:

We bet that a newspaper will publish their obituary.

IN FACT, THESE DAYS this newspaper has more readers than ever.

Although sales of printed editions are not growing as they once did, our digital business is brisk.

Last month our website had nearly 1.3 million page views. A decade ago that was zero.

When you count people who read this newspaper on their smartphones and tablets – which totaled zero a couple of years ago – page views in September climbed to more than 1.5 million.

Our Facebook friend count is approaching 7,500. Just a few years ago, it was zero.

And all that is in addition to the 40,000 or so folks who see our print edition on a daily basis.

Newspapers are not dying.

What is dying is the notion that a newspaper delivers only a printed edition.

BUT THERE IS NO denying that we are different.

For example, we feature “moving pictures” on our website. Some call it video.

You won’t find kittens in our videos, but you will find Nick Sheley, Rita Crundwell and a host of other hometown newsmakers.

You might also have seen a video we posted last April when Army SFC Kyle Hacker returned from Kuwait to surprise his 5-year-old daughter, Greta, at East Coloma School in Rock Falls.

If you have seen it, you’re not alone.

That YouTube video has had more than 700,000 views in the past 6 months.

A decade ago, we would have published a couple of photos of the father-daughter reunion for our print edition readers to see.

Now, people from all over the world can watch the video. Hundreds of thousands have (and still are).

Yes, we have changed.

CRYSTAL BALLS ARE constantly foretelling a sad fate for newspapers in this digital media age.

One interesting view showed up recently in an article in American Legion magazine, which reader Darryl Wahler passed along to this editor.

“Black & White & Read No More” was the foreboding title.

“A longtime reporter observes the twilight of American newspapers,” the secondary headline said.

The author, Paul Glader, wrote for newspapers for 20 years and now is CEO and managing editor at WiredAcademic.com.

He sees a future like this:

“BY 2020, MOST newspapers will be published only on weekends, preferring to deliver news, features and commentary to subscribers during the week by electronic devices – tablets, smartphones and other electronic gizmos.

“During the next eight years, we will see the ongoing, painful transition as printed products become pricey, boutique items. ... [R]eaders will grow more accustomed to paying subscription fees for the online news content they value. ...

“Then, one day, newspapers will cease to exist. ... Instead of ‘newspapers’ [they] will be called ‘news publishers,’ ‘news producers’ or ‘news organizations.’ More and more, we’ll read news on digital devices alongside our coffee, oatmeal and toast.”

WELL, MAYBE. BUT don’t bet the farm on his timetable.

Dire predictions of our doom have come amid the explosive growth of digital competitors over the past couple of decades.

All of those “competitors” offer information. All of them want a piece of the advertising pie.

In large cities, several TV, radio and Internet outlets challenge newspapers for local eyeballs and ad dollars.

That is Mr. Glader’s orientation after having worked for big city newspapers.

But markets like the Sauk Valley, while not immune from digital influences, are somewhat insulated from them.

More than 75 percent of newspapers are published in similarly small markets, where the newspapers themselves are not merely print products, but the dominant providers of digital news and information.

Such communities have no local TV stations. Local radio stations have little or no news staff and depend on the local newspaper to know what’s going on.

Besides saukvalley.com, what other local Internet sites do people around here turn to for local news and sports?

Exactly.

THIS REPRESENTS THE evolution of all of society, not just the media.

Online shopping has affected brick-and-mortar retailers.

Online booking of flights and lodging has changed travel agencies.

Do you think Amazon and digital tablets have had an effect on bookstores?

Cellphones ... well, do you know anybody who has one?

The world has changed – is changing.

Should we be surprised that newspapers, too, have changed?

AS WAS REPORTED last week, Suburban Life publications have been acquired by Shaw Media, this newspaper’s parent company.

The family-owned Shaw group already owned seven daily newspapers, several non-dailies and weeklies, as well as websites, community magazines, and other ancillary publications throughout northern Illinois and into Iowa.

Now the company has added 22 weekly newspapers in Chicago’s west suburbs, plus the group’s website.

All of Shaw’s publications – print and digital – survive in the expanding media world because they have a niche: delivering local news to local people, and local shoppers to local businesses.

And doing it better than anyone else.

Don’t worry. We’re going to be around for a while.

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