Entries tagged with “weekly newspapers”.


Americans’ right to publish free from government interference is contained in the Constitution’s First Amendment, which was adopted in 1791. In the past 50 years, all manner of publications have relied on it in major court cases, ranging from the New York Times — which has used it as a defense against claims of libel — to Hustler magazine — which has used it as a defense against charges of obscenity.

But what did the founding fathers have in mind back in 1791 when they made freedom of the press a centerpiece of the First Amendment? They certainly were not thinking of radio or television. Neither had been invented yet.

Nor were they thinking of big daily newspapers, such as The Times. They didn’t exist either. There was no way to produce large-circulation newspapers back when presses were hand-powered. Mass-circulation newspapers weren’t possible before the first half of the 19th Century when — in the wake of the Industrial Revolution — steam-powered and then rotary presses appeared.

Nor was Congress thinking about men’s magazines, such as Hustler. There’d be no reason to before cameras were invented, and the earliest form of photography, daguerreotype, debuted in 1839.

The “press” America’s founding fathers sought to protect in 1791 consisted of weekly newspapers, often with circulations under 500 because that was the most that could be produced in a week’s time. These tiny papers were considered so crucial to America’s emerging democracy that nine of the original 13 states independently passed freedom of the press laws before Congress passed the First Amendment.

A dramatic example of the value that American colonists placed on their outspoken, highly partisan little newspapers occurred in 1765 when the British Stamp Act imposed a tax on newspapers and business documents, thereby shutting down many colonial newspapers. The public was furious. John Holt, the owner of New York’s Weekly Gazette and Post-Boy, found a warning letter thrown through the door of his print shop. “We are encouraged to hope you will not be deterred from continuing your useful Paper by groundless Fear of the detestable Stamp-Act,” the letter said.

“However, should you at this critical Time shut up the Press and basely desert us, depend on it, your House, Person and Effects will be in imminent Danger. We shall therefore expect your Paper on Thursday as usual.” Needless to say, Holt continued publishing.

It’s worth noting that despite today’s widespread calumny that “newspapers are dying,” most are not, and weeklies in particular are holding up well. Because thousands of US communities are too small to get regular coverage of local news from television and daily newspapers, weekly newspapers have a total nationwide circulation far larger than many people realize.

There are approximately 1,400 daily newspapers in the US. Together they have a total circulation of about 42 million. In contrast, there are well over 6,000 community newspapers, mostly weeklies, and they have a total circulation of roughly 65 million. All this according to the National Newspaper Association (NNA).

Unlike daily newspapers, weekly newspapers are not discarded after a day. Most weeklies sit around the house for several days with various household members picking them up multiple times. As a result, weekly newspapers are read by an average of 2.3 people per household, and they typically spend 38.95 minutes a week with each copy, meaning that 150 million people read a community newspaper almost 40 minutes a week, NNA reports.

Local news is the most-frequently read topic, and 73 percent of community-newspaper readers report reading all or most of each issue.

To be certain there are an increasing number of web-news sites, many of them maintained by newspapers, but their readers average only 4.4 minutes per visit, according to NNA. It’s also worth noting that 30 percent of adults who live where community newspapers circulate have no Internet access at home.

At 4 p.m. this Sunday, April 27, I’ll have more to say about the weekly press at Book Passage in Corte Madera.

I’ll also read from my new book, The Light on the Coast: 65 Years of News Big and Small as Reported in The Point Reyes Light.

As the cover notes, the book is “the history of West Marin’s Lively Little Towns and their Pulitzer Prize-Winning Weekly Newspaper.”

It consists of news reports published at the time events were occurring plus a background narrative.

The Book Passage store where I’ll be speaking is located at 51 Tamal Vista Boulevard just north of Century Cinema theaters.

During the 27 years I edited and published The Point Reyes Light, I belonged to a variety of newspaper associations, among them: the San Francisco Press Club; the California Newspaper Publishers Association (CNPA); the National Newspaper Association (NNA); and the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors (ISWNE).

Since retiring at the end of 2005, however, the only membership I’ve maintained is in ISWNE. The society’s purpose, to quote our website, “is to help those involved in the weekly press to improve standards of editorial writing and news reporting and to encourage strong, independent editorial voices.”

Moreover, the society really is international notwithstanding its being based in the American heartland at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin. Three or four years ago, ISWNE listed the locations of its members’ newspapers, and I was surprised to see there were more in Alberta than California.

ISWNE’s annual conferences are often held abroad: Calgary, Alberta, 1994; London, Edinburgh, Cardiff & Dublin, 1995; Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1999; Victoria, British Columbia, 2000; Galway, Ireland, 2003; Edmonton & Fort McMurray, Alberta, 2005; Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, 2009; Coventry, England, 2011. In 2016, the group will head to Australia.

Postings from this blog are occasionally republished in the ISWNE newsletter.

Whether they’re in the US or abroad, most ISWNE members edit community weeklies. One of the more active members, who happens to be particularly savvy about community newspapers in the UK, is Jeremy Condliffe, who edits The Congleton Chronicle in Congleton, Cheshire, England. Perhaps these international editors merely have small-town common sense, but their comments in ISWNE’s publications and on its email hotline reflect a world of wisdom.

Why am I telling you all this? As a member of ISWNE, I receive its quarterly journal, Grassroots Editor, plus its monthly newsletter (above). I also read the bimonthly Columbia Journalism Review (below), which is published at Columbia University in New York City. The difference between New York’s and Joplin’s assessments of the state of newspapers is fascinating.


The July-August issue of CJR contains a review of The Wired City: Reimagining Journalism and Civic Life in the Post-Newspaper Age.

The author, Dan Kennedy, an assistant professor of journalism at Northeastern University, apparently imagines a day when nonprofit websites will replace many newspapers.

Post-Newspaper Age? The impression that newspapers in general are fading away has gained credence mostly from being so oft repeated.

It’s true that several well-known newspapers such as The Honolulu Advertiser and The Rocky Mountain News have folded in the last few years. Several big city dailies such as the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Detroit News, and the Detroit Free Press have cut back to three days a week. The Christian Science Monitor has had to drop its print edition and publish only online. We’ve all heard the story. It’s been discussed on CBS’s 60 Minutes.

In contrast, the spring issue of Grassroots Editor headlines a spot-check of far-flung weeklies, “Despite predictions of their pending demise, community newspapers are alive and well in: Montana, Bahamas, California, Ireland, Missouri, North Dakota, Atlantic Canada.”

In that issue, the editor of The Winters Express in Yolo County, Debra DeAngelo, commented on a conversation she’d had with CNPA’s director of affiliate relations, Joe Wirt.

“He explained that he’s visiting small Northern California newspapers to see what it’s really like in our world rather than assuming that we’re all in a rush to ditch print publication for online formats and iPhone apps.

“Apparently, the good folks at CNPA noticed that, wait a minute — not every small paper is dying a slow, choking death. Many are surviving, just as they are, despite years of economic stagnation and the explosion of online technology….

“People still want to read the city council stories on paper rather than watch them on cable, likely because waiting a week for the story is less painful than sitting through a meeting.”

Steve Andrist, executive director of the North Dakota Newspaper Association, put it more bluntly: “Those people who say newspapers are dead or irrelevant or dinosaurs — they’re still reading newspapers.” Nor is optimism about the future of newspapers unique to supposedly old-fashioned editors at county weeklies.

Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. holding company, is similarly optimistic about the future of bigger newspapers. And Buffett has amassed a personal fortune of $54 billion by knowing when a good business is undervalued.

In the past 19 months, Berkshire Hathaway has spent $344 million acquiring 28 daily newspapers. The company has stressed it doesn’t intend to “flip” (resell) any of these papers but instead plans to be their long-term owner.

In 2011, Buffett (left) was ranked the third richest man in the world. In 2008, he was the richest. He has repeatedly said the US under-taxes the rich and endorsed President Obama’s reelection.

It’s worth noting that Buffett does not interfere with his newspapers’ editorial policies. In a letter to shareholders, he wrote, “I voted for Obama; of our 12 dailies that endorsed a presidential candidate, 10 opted for Romney.”

Buffett also told shareholders why newspapers can survive regardless of widespread lamentations about their future:

“Newspapers continue to reign supreme,” he wrote, “in the delivery of local news. If you want to know what’s going on in your town – whether the news is about the mayor or taxes or high school football – there is no substitute for a local newspaper that is doing its job.

“A reader’s eyes may glaze over after they take in a couple of paragraphs about Canadian tariffs or political developments in Pakistan; a story about the reader himself or his neighbors will be read to the end. Wherever there is a pervasive sense of community, a paper that serves the special informational needs of that community will remain indispensable to a significant portion of its residents.”

Buffett doesn’t dispute the need for daily papers to include national and international news but makes explicit that what sells newspapers is good coverage of local news.

That’s just what the weekly press has been doing all along, informing readers about events in their own community. This, in turn, is why weekly newspapers aren’t about to die off.

As usual, Buffett knows what he’s talking about. The last I heard, there were fewer than 5,000 households in West Marin; nonetheless, two competing weeklies, The Point Reyes Light and The West Marin Citizen, are able to survive here thanks to their both providing intense coverage of local news.