Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Columbia, S.C.'s daily newspaper is bleeding ...

If you want the stark reality of what is happening in the newspaper business, the decline -- in hard numbers -- of  The State of Columbia, S.C., will help.

The state capital newspaper, for all the times I poke it for kind of dumb things, does good work.

And while papers like the Post and Courier in Charleston do some great work -- as evidenced by this year's Pulitzer Prize and this week's deep dive into how S.C. legislators stretch the limits on their spending accounts, There still is no substitute for a strong newsroom in the same town looking over the pols' shoulders.

So take a look at these figures.

Here is The State's circulation from 2008 as found in an archive on McClatchy's website. It was close to 100,000.


This next archive is from February 2013. the date of the page on The State's own site, though I can't be sure if those are 2009 or 2013 figures. There was a drop of about 10,000 (which would be pretty darn alarming if it were year over year).

Now, the numbers have fallen off the table to about half what they were in 2008 - about 53,000. That's down more than 2,400 from a year earlier or 4.4 percent


Interestingly, you won't find those circulation figures in the "about us" part of the current website, nor how many counties the paper circulates in. This was a paper whose owner, McClatchy, used to boast that it circulated in 23 of the state's 46 counties and was the state's largest paper.

 ( McClatchy's site does have circulation figures, but none of the other bling. You can read between the lines on that.)

Sunday circulation does seem to be holding its own and even growing. But I can also say from years of taking the paper, the ads appear to be down. (And there is some question whether those circulation numbers include people who don't take the paper but are delivered the inserts anyhow. It's allowed by the industry's circulation auditor, but is sketchy at best when talking about true circulation.)

You can spin this anyway you want, and McClatchy certainly has been hyping its digital efforts lately, even if the company was about five years late to the game on some best practices (like putting summaries on top of stories). But I know The State's digital circulation has not made up for this drop -- and there always is the problem of exchanging digital dimes for print dollars.

I'm not so much in love with the actual paper as with the ethos of a "newspaper" newsroom to uncover and dig. This is one of our biggest challenges, I think -- will we be able to somehow preserve that ethos when there is serious question whether local news will "scale" in a digital age.

This is in the American Press Institute briefing today. 

Real-time bidding offers media companies opportunities for new sources of revenue, with projected growth to reach $20.8 billion by 2017. Premium content that attracts a specific audience will be important because programmatic buyers serve ads based on data about the individual visiting the page, according to Christian Hendricks, vice president/interactive media for The McClatchy Company. 
 It will be interesting to see how that plays out and what kind of tensions it presents between the traditional ideal of covering the community versus focusing coverage on niches. Nationally and internationally, a case may be made for niches. But if one proclaims oneself to be a community voice, what does "community" mean in the digital age?

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