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Sun editorial: In incredibly changing times, local newspapers remain strong in Iowa
February 08, 2018

We may be the 20th smallest state in the nation, but we're mighty when it comes to media.

Our Iowa Newspaper Association boasts the largest state convention in all of the U.S. Newspaper folks gathered in Des Moines last week for the annual event.

It gives good insight into the state of local media. And that relates to you - because your engagement affects how well we're doing.

First, there shouldn't be any sugar-coating. It's tough out there for small and large newspapers.

The editor of the Storm Lake Times put it best in a recent column (you might have heard that this small-town paper won a Pulitzer last year):

"It's harder to sell advertising in a small community because of the shrinkage of the retail base," editor John Cullen wrote, noting consolidation, big boxes and the internet shuttering many small business.

We heard that from every newspaper person we spoke with at the newspaper convention.

You see, the subscription you pay (currently $30) barely covers the cost of printing and postage. Most of our revenue comes from advertising. Although we've lost some of that ad revenue to the internet, the biggest loss is the fact that there are fewer and fewer businesses, period.

Interestingly, we haven't lost readers.

Circulation at our weekly newspapers continues to be strong.

That's all because of you.

You live in a small town because you want to have that small-town way of life. You want to be connected. You are engaged. That means you care about what's going on, and you learn about what's going on by getting the paper.

That's the good news for our industry.

So the opportunity is harnessing that readership to sell advertising, possibly in new ways. And finding ways to be more efficient (any small business operator can attest this is a must in today's new economy).

What does that mean for your newspaper?

It's one of the main reasons the prior owners, including publisher Jake Krob, sold to Woodward Communications in October.

As Jake put it, it was an opportunity be part of something bigger than ourselves.

Put another way: There are more people - and, in turn, more experts - to navigate what it means to be a newspaper in this new economy.

That can only be a good thing.

There was also this takeaway from last week's convention: Newspaper folks continue to be optimistic about this industry.

A 2017 study by our Iowa Newspaper Association backs that up.

Seventy-six percent of Iowans read their local paper. Even younger people do - 72.4 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds.

Nearly 70 percent of newspaper readers say the advertising is important.

As long as people continue to live in small towns, and as long as they continue to be engaged, we'll play an important role.

That's great news for those who work in this business - and the communities that rely on us.

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