Dear Readers,

The new year dawned with not-so-good business news on the newspaper front. Newsprint prices were going up -- double digits -- AGAIN. The top 100 newspapers -- all dailies -- were reporting dismal January ad sales and slumping circulation figures. It was enough to make a publisher like me rekindle my dream of being an elementary school librarian.

Problem was, I couldn’t justify what the industry news was telling me with what YOU, our readers, were saying. Every day in Blount County I hear such good things, such kind things about Blount Today. You comment on specifics -- stories you like, pictures that made you smile, events you are sorry you missed -- so I knew you weren’t just making small talk.

But if the “news” is right, you are just being kind. So, I looked at hard numbers. We are a newspaper that exists solely on advertising revenue. January looked good. February was down a little, but, then, February is always down a little.

And readership, which is what advertisers really care about because it means their ads are getting read, was bucking all industry trends reported for dailies. Our official Scarborough Readership report for Blount Today showed that we had a net increase of over 1,600 readers in 2007. That’s real growth that any newspaper would throw a party to celebrate!

In addition, I get many phone calls from readers telling me that it’s hard to find a Blount Today in our racks by the weekend. While that is frustrating to the person looking -- and we always try to get them a paper -- it is actually good news for our newspaper and especially for our advertisers. We don’t fill racks with newspapers that no one is picking up. Our return rate from our 70 newspaper racks is 2 percent most weeks, and less than that some weeks!

Like any newspaper today, Blount Today will have to make some changes in the coming months to combat the forces that bombard our business -- ink prices, newsprint prices, businesses with less money to spend. I’m convinced, however, that what we won’t have to change is how we approach our mission: Committed to Community. We will continue to offer you a snapshot of Blount County through event coverage, news stories and analysis pieces about issues you care about. We have a great, committed team here, and we’re excited about 2008.

If you are interested in industry trends, visit our Web site at and follow the link to the Follow The Media Web site. There is an excellent story on community newspapers at the top of the news.

The story is headlined “Forget Gannett, Forget McClatchy -- Want to Read Positive Stories About The US Newspaper Business Then Concentrate on Community Newspapers.”

In the report by Philip M. Stone, he writes that community newspapers are being read by 83 percent of all Americans 18 and older.

“While media stories concentrate on the dismal January performances by daily metropolitan newspapers at such big chains as Gannett and McClatchy, there’s actually a section of the US newspaper industry that is continuing to do very well, thank you very much -- non-daily community newspapers.

“New research shows those newspapers continue to be read in huge numbers - some 83% of Americans over the age of 18 read a community newspaper each week - and their publishers claim that business is just great.”

Stone further cites the National Newspaper Association information gathered by the prestigious Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism that says that “in spite of all the doom and gloom results announced each month by metropolitan newspapers, community newspapers are growing circulation and readership.”

Newspaper broker Larry Grimes, who specializes in community newspapers, says that while a slowdown in retail environment and high gas prices can lead to “a slowdown in ad spending, local advertisers may really take a hard look at where they are getting the best value for their dollar. And they may well find newspapers are at the top of their list.”

What sets the community newspaper apart, Grimes says, are newspapers that are taking a far greater pro-active approach to their markets. “They continue to increase their household penetration. They are creating special sections, products and on-line resources that reach out to all major segments of their population (that includes the 21-35 demographic.) They are getting to better know their advertiser’s business and are working with them to create marketing campaigns that generate a strong ROI.”

I’ve never met Mr. Grimes, but that strategy has been the goal at Blount Today since we opened our doors. Ask our regular advertisers. Our sales team works with them individually in any way we think we can help.

The study by the Reynolds Institute included the following about community newspapers:

n A slight increase - to 83 percent from the 81 percent reported in 2005 - of adults over the age of 18 that read a community newspaper every week.

n The average time spent reading such a newspaper is 41.8 minutes - a near 10 percent increase over the time recorded in the previous 2005 survey.

n Nearly one-third of readers keep their newspaper for more than six days, enabling them to revisit a story or advertisement at their leisure.

We hope you will continue to read our newspaper, patronize our advertisers, and, if you are a business, get on board now with a growing trend: Community weeklies. We are happy to be in Blount County and proud of our newspaper. We strive every week to make it something you can be proud of as well.


Sherri Gardner Howell


Blount Today

© 2008 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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