Archived Story

Our business is news, not paper

Published 11:32pm Friday, November 1, 2013

Thursday morning, Billy Canary, president and CEO of the Business Council of Alabama, told a gathering of the Alexander City business community that “newspapers are dead.”
As you might expect, my phone lit up shortly thereafter.
Outlook advertising representative Daniel Goslin was one of those attending the Alexander City Chamber of Commerce’s Professional Development Summit, where Canary made his declaration.
Shortly after, Daniel said another attendee came up to him and asked what he was going to be doing in a couple of years when newspapers are dead.
As publisher of five newspapers in the Lake Martin area, I would like to respectfully, publicly and forcefully disagree with Canary’s statement.
In fact, he called me Friday morning and said his comment was out of line, maybe misunderstood or taken out of context, that he never intended to discredit the newspaper business and that this incident has become a coachable moment for him.
He said he learned and wouldn’t make the mistake again in future speeches.
I’m glad. Because Canary was very mistaken.
But it’s not the first time an intelligent, noted expert has stood before a crowd and said the same thing.
Almost a century ago, in the 1920s, experts preached that radio would kill newspapers.
Then it was TV that would sound the death knell of newspapers. Recently, it’s been the Internet.
In the most recent case, I think the experts have been fooled by the name of our product.
It is one word, the fusion of two separate words: “news” and “paper.”
There is some merit to the argument that paper is going away.
I personally believe it is a wrong-headed position, but it is true that letters are increasingly being replaced by emails.
Canary also said the U.S. Post Office is going away and said the same thing about bank checks – the paper kind.
But nobody – and I mean nobody – would say “news is dead.”
In fact, we are experiencing the golden age of news right now.
The Outlook’s combined paper and electronic readership is as high as it has ever been since it was founded in 1892.
Our penetration in our coverage area is above 70 percent, according to an independent Pulse Research survey done in eight months ago – triple the penetration of our closest media competitor in this market.
And there’s a reason for that: community newspapers work.
They work for disseminating news. They ring cash registers for the businesses who invest in our products with their advertising messages.
And they work better than any other media.
The reason large metropolitan newspapers are struggling in many markets is that they fill their pages with stories that can be found free online.
The reason community newspapers are doing well right now is because we don’t. Never have.
We write the stories here in Alexander City, about Alexander City people, Alexander City opinions and Alexander City events that are vitally important to those who live here in Alexander City.
That’s not going to change.
I’m guessing that the Business Council of Alabama – and every other business council in America – knows Warren Buffett is a pretty smart investor.
His company, Birkshire Hathaway, now owns 69 community newspapers, including our closest newspaper competitor to the south, the Opelika-Auburn News.
Buffett invested in newspapers in the past couple of years because he knows a properly managed community newspaper is a vital, profitable business with a bright future.
Our traditional method of distribution – printing on paper – may change over time. It may not. It’s way too early to tell.
But our business has never been paper – it’s news and advertising.
We’ll deliver vital information about your hometown any way you’d like to have it.
We’ve been doing it for more than 120 years, and we’ll be doing it for years and years to come.
Boone is publisher of The Outlook, The Dadeville Record, The Tallassee Tribune, The Eclectic Observer and The Wetumpka Herald.