Core coverage remains our bread and butter

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By Steve Key

As many newspapers work to stabilize revenue and reduce costs accordingly, one constant remains – the importance of credibility.

The reputation of a newspaper can’t be compromised if it wants to compete in the digital age.

Pew Research Center’s State of the Media 2012 reports that most digital traffic comes to news sites through their home pages, not through search engines or social media.

“Reputation remains paramount: of the 25 most popular U.S. news sites, two-thirds are run by traditional news organizations,” according to the report.

Those sites recorded 342 million average unique visitors monthly in 2011, according to Nielsen Online.

Newspapers, network news and cable news channels account for 17 of the top 25 news sites.

Pew also found that adults turn to newspapers, whether print or online, for topics of local news more than any source.

According to Pew, newspapers are the top sources for news on community events, crime, taxes, local government, arts and culture, social services, zoning and development.

Newspapers are tied with the Internet as the top source for news on housing, schools and jobs.

Newspapers are tied with TV as the top source for local political news.

To maintain that dominant position, a newspaper must maintain an adequate staff level to provide coverage. A vacuum invites competition to fill a need.

Similarly, newspapers don’t want to leave a void when it comes to how readers want to access local news.

According to Pew, consumers with computers, tablets and/or smartphones use different devices for news at different times of the day.

During early weekday mornings, data show that news sites receive spikes in traffic from smartphones, tablets and computers as consumers turn to all three to check the headlines.

Later in the day, traffic is higher on computers as people use office desktops and laptops.

Between 9 p.m. and midnight, tablets see a more significant spike.

The assumption is that people favor their tablet while they relax in the living room or bedroom before going to sleep.

The importance of this data will increase as the sales of tablets and smartphones continues to grow – and grow they will.

Apple alone reported sales of 25 million iPads worldwide in 2011, and the use of smartphones has nearly doubled since 2009, according to Nielsen.

That’s why HSPA is running a pilot project with The Indianapolis Recorder and The Corydon Democrat to test a mobile app that may be economical and user-friendly enough for small newspapers to use.

But the key remains having enough reporters to cover the news of a community.

I still shudder when I recall a publisher of a county-wide newspaper telling me he had to cut staff to the point where the paper was no longer covering the courts.

Courts are part of the crime beat, where newspapers remain No. 1.

As an industry, let’s maintain our local news preeminence.

Steve Key is executive director and general counsel for HSPA.