Newspapers need Postal Service, print remains important
February 4, 2016
Research from Pew Center supports NNA study
By Max Heath
Research from the Pew Center just released showed that in three markets of varying sizes, more than half of the readers depend primarily on the printed newspaper. Studies in Sioux City, IA; Macon, GA; and Denver also revealed:
Among newspaper print subscribers and readers, the heaviest dependence comes from a particularly vulnerable part of our nation: people over 65, people who have not attended college, and people with an annual income under $30,000. Without the newspaper, their engagement in the community would be tenuous.
This nugget was presented in written testimony by National Newspaper Association President Chip Hutcheson last month before a Senate committee hearing on the U.S. Postal Service, and in support of legislation NNA backs, yet again, to try to maintain service levels for community newspapers and other mailers.
Pew surveys are widely reported and followed, but they don’t always align with the needs of NNA members. Although NNA has about 230 daily newspaper members, we follow the data. And this research aligns well with NNA’s 2014 research into community newspapers, and it also indicates that if these facts are true for dailies in smaller, mid-size and large markets, they will be even more true for weeklies.
NNA’s last research revealed regular and consistent readership of 65 percent or more in smaller communities. Seventy-eight percent say they rely on the newspaper as their primary source for local news and information, indicating that when local news breaks, even nonsubscribers are picking up the paper at the newsstand or borrowing a copy from another reader.
Only about 45 percent of residents tell us they look at the newspaper website. But among those who go to websites for news, it is the newspaper website that they are most likely to use and trust.
With print as the primary medium for readership and newspaper profits, distribution becomes a critical problem. Getting into the home in our primary and secondary markets with timely delivery is critical. With most of our 2,100 member newspapers (and increasingly small dailies) using mail for newspapers averaging 3,000-5,000 circulation in primarily rural and exurban markets, the Postal Service remains our most crucial supplier.
Distant delivery of newspapers is an age-old problem that is worsening. But delivery of newspapers into secondary markets near our primary market area is more difficult than ever. The primary market for a community newspaper is usually a small town or towns and a county. When the primary town is near a county line, service into both counties can be difficult.
The secondary market usually consists of a series of small towns in a group of counties ringing the primary market. Or out west, with larger counties, it can be towns scattered through the rest of the county, but often served by what were once different “Sectional Center Facilities,” or SCFs. Many of these have closed, replaced by Hubs, which will transfer “Direct” containers that can be “dock-transferred” to other post offices in the service territory without being opened and sorted. This is an important step achieved by NNA for its members.
NNA FLASH MEMBER SURVEY
SUPPORTS USPS IMPORTANCE
A quick 2016 Web survey of NNA members done specifically for Hutcheson’s testimony expanded upon the urgent postal delivery needs of community newspapers. It revealed:
• 92.5 percent have experienced problems reaching readers on time with their Periodicals newspaper.
• 40.3 percent report delivery problems with First Class or Priority Mail.
• 49.2 percent attribute the problems to a closed or downsized plant; 44 percent don’t know where the problem arises.
• 53 percent experienced a problem reaching core-market readers on time—either within their county or within the market but outside the county.
• 79 percent describe the Postal Service as critical to their survival.
But in what may be a big surprise to some players inside the Beltway, when asked whether USPS should lower the rates under the current exigency increase, or keep service levels higher, 77 percent said “Let USPS keep the money and improve service (even though they didn’t want another increase that big again).”
Without legislation soon, the Postal Service will be forced under court rule to end the exigency assessment judged attributable to the Great Recession. And the resulting shortfall will force them to go ahead with the last round of processing plant closings that will end USPS as we knew it going into this decade.
Once again, NNA makes a “goal-line stand” against a magazine and allied printing industry wanting the postage decrease and the plant closings. They can more or less “manage” delivery by revising their drop-shipment points across the nation, whereas newspapers often depend on an “end-to-end” system that is increasingly dysfunctional.
The NNA board has approved pursuit of this course, and NNA’s governmental relations staff, led by Tonda Rush, has been pursuing a bill to help fix USPS while also maintaining service levels.
At the same time, it has achieved a long-sought goal: Measurement of rural service levels, with agreement of USPS and the Postal Regulatory Commission. We should see the first results of this study soon, and it likely won’t be pretty. © Max Heath 2016
MAX HEATH, NNA postal chair, is a postal consultant for Athlon Media Group, publisher of Parade, American Profile, Relish, Spry Living, and Athlon Sports newspaper supplements, and also for Landmark Community Newspapers LLC. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.