Do community newspapers have a future?

February 4, 2014

By Jerry Bellune
Publishers' Toolbox 

A new year is a good time to reflect on what we might do to assure our newspapers’ future. Gloom-and-doomers have been forecasting the death of newspapers most of our lives.

I have a few predictions of my own:

The magazines that have survived have niched their readers and advertisers. The metros that survive will have to consider this formula.

Tightly focused community newspapers will survive in print and online. What we do is expensive and time consuming. It requires passion and commitment.

Technology isn’t going to kill newspapers any faster than it will kill printed books.

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media will offer us new tools for news and advertising.


The proof is in the entries

Good examples of this are the entries in the National Newspaper Association’s annual Better Editorial Contest and Better Advertising Contest. The winning entries represent the best work being produced in our industry.

Some of them are highly creative and innovative. Some entries are far beyond what you might expect small newspapers to produce.

Sara Walsh, NNA programs and outreach manager, gave me the opportunity to judge special sections in the circulation of less than 10,000 and more than 10,000 classes.

I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of special sections being produced today. Technology has taken much of the drudgery out of producing such sections. It has also helped us boost the quality of the writing, photography and design of these sections.

It would be hard to imagine such sections in the days of wax and paste, much less hot type.


Entries worth emulating

Among the entries were some highly ambitious and well-executed special sections including:

• The Pagosa Springs Official Visitors Guide—a 140-page full color, coated stock magazine had to be months in the planning and execution. Far larger newspapers would be proud of such a professional section.

• The Leelanau Visitors Guide—a 116-page full color guide with a mix of coated and bleached stock.

This outstanding work makes me feel more bullish about community newspapers’ futures.


Jerry Bellune and his family own and operate book and newspaper publishing companies and a consulting and sales coaching company. For information on how he might help you, email him at

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