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Friday, March 20, 2009

Big success for small town papers? Don’t be so sure.

It is a recently-held belief that small town newspapers are faring far better than the big dailies right now. Minnpost recently ran an anecdotal story about two small town newspapers that appeared to confirm that trend. We checked in with the Mille Lacs Messenger’s editor to see if his paper’s experience has been consistent. What he said surprised us, and confirmed that in today’s media world, nothing is certain. Oh, and by the way, the irony of a public relations person quoting a newspaper person is not lost on us.

Here’s what Brett Larson, editor of the Mille Lacs Messenger, had to say:

"After reading the story, I’d say you can’t generalize that just because a few towns have thriving newspapers, and sometimes more than one, everything is rosy in small-town America.

"Our readership is strong, but our ad revenue - and as a result - our number of pages, is down significantly over the last six months. We assume this reflects the economy and is not permanent, but frankly, we’re not sure. Will everyone come back when the economy turns around, or will they go elsewhere for advertising (web, radio, etc.)?

"We don’t know yet if what we’re seeing with big city papers will happen in small towns, but if you assume it won’t, you have your head in the sand, and if the change does come, you’ll be left behind.

"The obvious difference between us and the big guys is that the small-town paper is often the only source for local news, but this is changing and will continue to change. News Web sites are springing up in small towns around the country and attempting to compete with newspapers for ad revenue.

"We’re currently trying to make sure our Web site remains head and shoulders above the competition. Right now, we have the people and the infrastructure to cover local news in a far more comprehensive way than the newcomers."