Newspaper industry, know thyself


By Steve Key
Hoosier State Press Association

Our industry’s product is news, but it appears we need to do a better job of spreading the news about the impact of newspapers in a community.

There were four bills filed in the 2013 legislature with the intent to divert either all, some or a particular public notice from publication in newspapers to posting on government websites.

Two of the bills received hearings – one in the House and one in the Senate.

Once it was shown how effective newspapers are compared to government websites and that Hoosiers want and expect the notices to be published, none of the four bills moved forward with the language impacting publication of public notices.

The authors don’t have a hatred of newspapers or a hidden agenda to make public notices less accessible to Hoosiers.

They genuinely believe the Internet is a better option than newspaper publication.

“My local newspaper is a thin, little thing that people don’t read,” said one southern Indiana representative.

“Comparing newspaper circulation to unique visitors to a website isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison, it’s apples-to-watermelons,” a central Indiana senator said. “Anyone in the world can access a website so it’s more accessible than a newspaper with its limited circulation.” (I couldn’t get him to appreciate that what people actually see is better than what they could potentially see.)

We obviously need to kick-start our self-marketing.

Newspapers are not dying, and public notices published in newspapers remain the most effective means for government units to inform the public of actions taken or contemplated.

But are we individually telling our communities either story?

In my April 25 column, I talked about a Newspaper Association of America-funded Nielsen survey that scored newspapers the highest in audience engagement and advertising efficacy. Did your newspaper run that story? Has your newspaper sought a copy of the study to parse relevant statistics to leave with your advertising clients?

In examples shared by HSPA members, Indiana newspaper circulation, either print alone or print and unique visitors to newspaper websites, beat out the unique visitors to local government websites almost universally.

Has your newspaper created a house ad showing the measurable reach you have in your community?

Are we touting public notice advertising’s effectiveness and value to readers?

Sarah O. Wilson, publisher of The Rochester Sentinel, noted that the public notices section on her paper’s website is the No. 4 page in popularity – trailing only the front page, obituaries, and classifieds.

When was the last time you had an editorial explaining the purpose behind public notice advertising and why newspapers are the best medium for its distribution?

All newspapers enjoy the steady, reliable income stream from public notices, even at a state-mandated discount.

Does your newspaper just run those notices tucked away inside a section in the smallest type allowed with no special attention, either through stories or house ads, or do you market public notice advertising?

Do you routinely write a story based on a public notice in the newspaper and refer readers to that notice and others published in that edition?

Kathy Tretter, publisher of The Ferdinand News and Spencer County Leader (Dale) recalled how a public notice advertisement concerning the sale of surplus property generated more than 50 bids for grass-cutting equipment.

Has your newspaper written a story about the reaction generated by publication of a public notice?

When Bill Masterson, exiting publisher of The Times (Munster), attempted to convince a Lake County school administrator to switch the district’s publication of notices from a weekly to his large daily, he said this was the response of the superintendent:

“When people see public notices, they come to meetings and give us crap. Why would I want to put them in your daily where even more people would see them?”

What a ringing endorsement for the effectiveness of public notices and newspapers.

Don’t be shy. Let your community know the value of newspapers and the value of public notice advertising.

Steve Key is executive director and general counsel for HSPA.