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Weekly newspapers faring better than dailies

According to the Pew Research Center's annual report on American journalism, advertising revenues for newspapers dropped 23 percent in the last two years; circulation declined around 5 percent over the past year, and one out of five journalists working in 2001 is now gone.

This is the bad news that has dailies reeling. As noted last week, North Dakota's major dailies have been forced to make significant staff cuts. But the news does not seem as bad for North Dakota weeklies. A random survey of publishers provided a more positive picture for the state's weekly newspaper. In fact, some of them seemed actually buoyant.

Jason Nordmark, publisher of papers in Rolla, Beach, Medora, Lake Metigoshe, Cando, Ellendale, Oakes, Park River and Towner, reported that he hasn't seen "much of a decline in financial support or readership in weekly newspapers." The Napoleon Homestead reported that it was coming off its best year in history.

In Mountrail oil boom country, Editor Marvin Baker of the Mountrail County Record reported that "we really haven't seen hard times in New Town" and he attributed it to the oil surge. Mary Kilen of the Mountrail County Promoter in Stanley reveled in increased advertising and subscriptions. Jackie Thompson of the Walsh County Record (Grafton) hasn't seen a drop in subscriptions, either.

Jill Denning Gackle of BHG, Garrison publisher of 10 weeklies in Mercer, Oliver, Sheridan and McLean counties, reported no decline in advertising or subscriptions and that "business remains good in western North Dakota."

She credits three factors: Not giving the paper away on the Internet; remaining strong in local news; and staffs that are well connected to their communities.

This doesn't mean that weeklies haven't been fighting to hold their ground. Wherever possible, they have been consolidating personnel, buying fewer paper clips, using all of the latest technology, and seeking new income.

Tony Bender, publisher of the Ashley Tribune and the Wishek Star, plugs the revenue holes by offering advertisers full color, selling subscriptions online, and charging for obituaries.

Probably the most significant change that saved weeklies for a number of communities has been the formation of multi-paper ownerships. The Jason Nordmark and BHG groupings, along with Ness Press in Fordville (eight papers), are the largest, but Sean Kelly of the Ransom County Gazette in Lisbon now has papers in Traill, Cass and LaMoure counties. There are several other smaller multi-paper groupings, also.

Multiple ownerships have provided new opportunities for effective use of personnel, amortizing expensive technology, bulk purchasing and cutting production corners.

Nordmark believes that "the future of weekly community newspapers is brighter than that of dailies." This upbeat observation should be of some encouragement for smaller cities when their main streets are struggling and the rural population dwindling.