Reports of our death are exaggerated.
Mark Twain's famous quote, paraphrased, applies to the state of community newspapers today.
For years, since the popular advent of the Internet, experts have been predicting the demise of newspapers as young, savvy readers turn to electronic media instead of print. Indeed, we have observed that with one of Areawide's newspapers, the Villager Journal, the number of unique visitors to our Web site each week had, three years ago, already surpassed the number of print copies sold each week. Although these readers aren't lost, their information gathering habits have changed, keeping up with the trend of readers nationwide.
To make an honest assessment of newspaper readership in a rapidly changing culture, the Arkansas Press Association commissioned the advertising agency Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods this summer to conduct a telephone survey of newspaper readership in Arkansas.
To ensure an accurate representation, those completing the survey had to be at least 18 years old and registered to vote. The respondents were half male, half female, and were evenly divided among the four congressional districts in the state.
The findings, to our surprise and delight, revealed the newspaper industry is healthy and strong. Among the findings:
* Arkansas has 1.8 adults per household who read a newspaper on at least a weekly basis.
* Ninety-four percent of households in Arkansas have at least one adult who reads a newspaper on a weekly basis.
* Eighty percent of Arkansas households subscribe to at least one newspaper, and 35 percent subscribe to two or more.
* Nine out of 10 (91 percent) Arkansas households read local newspapers, while 55 percent read statewide newspapers and 13 percent read national newspapers.
* When looking for information about local events, 74 percent of Arkansans turn to newspapers, followed by 13 percent who turn to television, 4 percent to radio, 3 percent to shoppers (advertising publications).
* When making shopping decisions, 54 percent turn to newspapers, 16 percent to shoppers, 12 percent to television, 1 percent to radio.
* Newspapers are the most believable medium for advertising. Respondents believed newspaper advertising 85 percent of the time, television 70 percent, radio 65 percent, direct mail 53 percent.
It is fitting that it was Mark Twain, the country newspaper editor, who said, "Reports of my death are exaggerated," since he is the template for all the community newspaper editors who would follow over the next century and a half. Although the machinery has evolved, the product -- local news, information and commentary from an independent source -- is essentially the same as it always has been.
That's good news, not only for the industry, but for the nation. An informed citizenry is a hallmark of a free nation. And no other medium does it better than newspapers.