Story and photo by Emory Williamson
Benjy Hamm is reading the news and he isn’t happy.
Hamm and journalists Ryan Craig and Rama Sobhani discussed a bright spot within the newspaper industry: community newspapers.
“It’s absurd,” said Hamm, Landmark Community Newspapers LLC editorial director, in an interview before the Thursday session. “These community newspapers are extraordinarily strong. Newspapers are in good shape; the economy is bad, but community newspapers will be strong for a time to come.”
The panel discussion, moderated by Al Cross, Institute of Rural Journalism and Community Issues director, highlighted the impact community newspapers have in their areas.
Cross said community newspapers typically have less than 30,000 circulation.
“Community journalism is relationship journalism,” Cross said. “People want that product, and it’s the only source of authoritative news.”
Hamm said the key to community newspaper success is a strong, close connection with loyal readers, the staff’s community visibility and a focus on local level events.
It makes “people feel like they have to read it,” Hamm said.
The outlook for the newspaper industry, however, looks anything but bright.
According to graphicdesignr.net/papercuts, a blog counting U.S. journalism layoffs, almost 13,500 jobs have been cut in 2009. Other newspapers, like the Ann Arbor News, cut all employees and stopped publication.
The two largest papers in Hamm’s home state, the Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky. and the Lexington Herald-Leader, have cut nearly 100 employees since March.
But Hamm showed several community newspapers like the Citrus County Chronicle in Florida and the Carroll County Times that have thrived.
Many community newspapers increased circulation despite a struggling economy, large media market competition, locations in areas of high unemployment and newspaper price increases.
Freelance journalist Susan McKee said she came to the session because of “intellectual curiosity” and lauded the interactive, personal relationships created through community newspapers.
“You’re writing about people you know and things that matter,” McKee said. “It’s nice to see these small newspapers thriving.”
SPJ Members: Listen to and download a complete recording of this session by following this link.