Empowering Voters. Defending Democracy” is the current mission of the League of Women Voters. To this end, current and objective information about issues is of paramount importance to all of us. Newspapers are essential in keeping us informed and the need for trusted information has never been more critical.
Steve Key, executive director and general counsel for HSPA (Hoosier State Press Association), represents HSPA before the Indiana General assembly. He lobbies throughout the year for the interests of Indiana newspapers as well as the public’s freedom of information rights. “You are a rarity” began Key at a recent presentation at the LWV’s Lunch With the League program. He was referring to the fact that Montgomery County has two competing newspapers. Very few areas of Indiana are so fortunate. Yet our newspapers have challenges, just as the entire newspaper industry has challenges.
Over the past decades, some thought radio would mean the end of newspapers - then TV. Neither became a significant threat. Now, with the internet, the revenue model for newspapers has been forever disrupted. Newspapers can offer a wide range of readers specific information on their particular product or service. They can talk about their number of subscribers and second readers and the huge reach of their product. This was a real selling point until the internet. Services like Facebook or Google can offer pinpoint accuracy to advertisers. They use your data to target ads directly to your laptop or smartphone.
Let’s be clear though. Newspaper advertising is still very effective, yet there is no doubt that significant advertising money has transferred to the internet. Classified advertising took the first hit. It is hard to compete with a service like Craig’s list, which is free. Display advertising on the internet is also hurting newspaper display ads. In the last decade, newspaper ad revenue nationally dropped from $40 billion to $20 billion. There are few businesses that can survive that kind of revenue loss. Circulation has also dropped. This affects how newspapers operate. Between 2008 and 2017, there was a 45% decline in people working in newsrooms. The 39,000 journalists still working is more than the news workers in radio, TV and cable news combined; but if you don’t have enough bodies, you can’t cover as many stories, which hurts the product. It creates a vicious circle. Advertising decline leads to fewer pages published. Readers then see fewer pages and even smaller pages—all to save money. And while they see a smaller paper, the customer is asked to pay more for it. So some people drop the paper. This leads to even more revenue loss. And the cycle continues.
What are papers doing to break this circle? Some are publishing fewer days a week. This can lead to further cancellations, but it saves on printing and distribution costs. Others are having their printing done more economically farther away; but this impacts deadlines and the ability to keep the news as up-to-date as possible. Even advertising design has become less personal with ads being created as far away as overseas.
HSPA represents 160 paid circulation papers in Indiana yet there are less than 90 publishers left in the state. Nationally since 2004, one third of newspaper ownership has changed hands. The number of publishers who are active in their local community is dwindling. Stockholding chains like Gannett and private investor corporations have assumed ownership of several Indiana papers.
There is room for optimism! According to a 2017 survey, 3 million Hoosiers still read a newspaper at least once a week. That is a pretty good market. In addition, some 600,000 more subscribe to papers exclusively online. 71% of adults between 18 and 34 read the newspaper at least once a week, and millennials consider papers the most credible source for reading the news. This is why newspapers are so important to all of us. They are a trusted brand. Even those who say that their prime news source is Facebook or Twitter fail to recognize that often the information they get is linked to a newspaper since 85% of the news on the internet originates with a newspaper.
In terms of efficacy of advertising, a 2017 survey done in Indiana showed newspapers ads were the number one source in providing useful product or service information, which was 54% higher than ads placed in social media. Seven of 10 consumers visit a store’s website after seeing a sale or special offer in a newspaper.
In Montgomery County, the newspapers are an irreplaceable cog that let us know what is happening. We need to be informed. Without newspapers, who’s going to be at the City Council or school board meeting? Newspapers are still experimenting with a pricing model that will work in the digital age. The demand for accurate, timely news has never been more important. We just have to figure out a way to pay for it.

The League of Women Voters, open to men as well as women, is a nonpartisan, multi-issue political organization which encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase public understanding of major policy issues and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For information about the League, visit the website: www.lwvmontcoin.org or send a message to LWV, P.O. Box 101, Crawfordsville, IN 47933