Days might be numbered for printing presses, but not for newspapers

Jim Nowlan and I go back a long way, and I can't think of anyone I know who I respect more. That being said, I have a much less dystopian view of the future of newspapers, and particularly community journalism, than the one Jim shared in his piece "Stop the hand-wringing over decline of newspapers," a couple weeks ago. We are a much better product than we give ourselves credit for, and for those committed to community journalism, I believe we have a much brighter future than what some might think.

Despite the constant drumbeat that newspapers are dead, we need to recognize we have strengths that are critical to the quality of life in the communities we serve and we can continue to be a foundational part of those communities.

My vision for the future of local community newspapers looks a lot like the publication you will find on our website at www.democratnewspapers.com. Here you will find an easily navigated PDF version of this week's newspaper.

Our readers are loyal subscribers. True, they love their hold-it-in-their-hands newspapers, but we all know someday that to keep publishing, the cost we need to cut is the printing and mailing - not reporting.

My vision is to produce exactly the same product as we do today. Just deliver it differently. Our website already notifies readers by text or email that the electronic version of their paper (which is free with their subscription) has been delivered.

One problem with many of the other models is they either cut out the advertisers or they rely on them to pay all the freight.

Our efforts to get people in our advertisers' doors keep their doors open, and having those businesses serving our readership area adds immeasurably to the quality of life our communities can offer.

As Mr. Nowlan said, our local newspapers are more affordable than television or radio, and frankly, we target potential customers much better.

Mr. Nowlan suggests it is Facebook and Google that have stolen our advertisers. That is not what we have found. The combination of a poor economy and online shopping have been the biggest threats to our advertisers. American Express promotes Shop Small once a year. We promote it 52 weeks a year.

If you click on our website link you will find you can flip through the PDF pages of our newspaper. But there is a paywall, so don't plan on reading the stories without ponying up for a subscription.

What we do has value.

Local community newspapers provide their readers with news about their schools, government and neighbors that is not available anywhere else. Real news. We have a unique, valuable product.

Our service to the business community is every bit as valuable. Our circulation in their direct service area means we get their message to more people who are likely to visit their stores than any other medium.

And there are plenty of ways to monetize the website.

A Facebook page is not a substitute. Nor is a podcast, or alternative paper you have to go out and find.

I know a number of publishers with the free paper/shopper distribution model, and I know they fear no one will pay for their paper. If your product is worth reading and contains relevant, local content, people will pay. In fact, we had to be free for about 10 years back in our past, and we successfully transitioned back to paid. Again, what we do has value.

The days are numbered for printing presses and mailing. But that doesn't mean newspapers are going away. We can be our best selves - electronically.

Wendy Martin is editor of the Mason County Democrat in Havana and the Fulton Democrat in Lewistown.

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