Community newspapers are not mass media. They are narrowly focused in a tight geographical region and are involved in covering the everyday activities of the residents they serve. Everything from the local school kids and school boards to community volunteers and local politicians. Local folks and what they are doing is what community newspapers like the one you’re holding in your hand are all about.
You can imagine our surprise recently when the Fireman’s Association of the State of New York (FASNY), after being awarded a $4 million dollar grant from the US Department of Homeland Security to recruit new volunteer firefighters, choose not to use any of those dollars in this medium. We were told community newspapers were in the original proposal, but were scratched because: “it is harder to recruit volunteer firefighters because as people they have become more mobile and less attached to their communities.”
Come again? Volunteer firefighters are less attached to their community yet they are willing to put their lives on the line for their neighbors in the event of a house fire? Do you understand that logic? It makes absolutely no sense to me, but then again so many opinions swirling around these days don’t have much basis in simple common sense.
FASNY through the advice of a city-based advertising agency will spend the entire advertising campaign on cable television, radio and hundreds of billboards. They also plan to have a presence on Facebook and Twitter because they are targeting less attached 18 to 35-year-olds.
Volunteer firefighters — and their family and friends — are among our most loyal readers. Volunteer firefighters are as big a part of the local fabric as is this community newspaper. If your house is on fire, you don’t call the nearest city fire department nor send a post to your Facebook or Twitter account. The same holds true when you’ve got a local news story you go directly to your local newspaper.
Recently the “sage of Omaha” Warren Buffet, considered by many to be one of the smartest business people in American history, spent $142 million dollars to purchase a collection of newspapers. The secret of Buffet’s success is his knack for finding value in investments that less astute observers overlook. One of his investment strategies is in buying businesses that provide good value to customers and fill an important need in the market. Upon making his recent newspaper purchase he noted: “newspapers are still primary in many areas. They still tell me something primary that I can’t find elsewhere. In towns and cities where there is a strong sense of community, there is no more important institution than the local paper.”
Obviously you and I understand and believe in what Mr. Buffet said or you wouldn’t be reading this column. Newspapers are a valuable institution even after 400 years in existence and despite all the rhetoric newspapers will still be here long after the relatively new social media infatuation has passed. While television might be a popular entertainment medium the ratings have become very diluted over the years. In 1957 the highest rated television show ever to air was an “I Love Lucy” episode, which in 1953 scored a 71.6 percent home viewing. Today, “American Idol” is the favorite among 18 to 35-year-olds and it reaches only 13 percent of the television households. In comparison, our community newspapers are mailed to every home and consistently score a readership in the 80 percent range since we began measuring in 1997.
It is of vital concern that our volunteer fire departments attract new members. It is also of concern that our local community news organizations remain intact and viable. Pop culture and real life will meet head on as this recruiting campaign hits the markets later this year. We sincerely hope both community services are valued and strengthened for the benefit of the many lives they each touch.
Dan Alexander is publisher and CEO of Denton Publications. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org