I’ve tried to make the case before that the horrible times afflicting the nation’s metropolitan daily newspapers have far more to do with the collapse of a monopoly distribution model than with the quality of reporting in those newspapers. But now Paul Davis, publisher of the weekly Tuskegee News in Alabama, is making me do it again (via Romenesko). He writes:
Community newspapers are doing quite nicely, thank you, because they have not forgotten their mission, their responsibility to their readers, the service they must provide to their advertisers, their duty to report the good and the bad; to expose corrupt public servants who betray the public trust and seek to serve themselves first at the expense of the taxpayers.
I’m willing to grant that small-town papers have been less likely to get bloated and arrogant and out-of-touch than their big-city brethren. The rest is a load of hooey, though. A few community newspapers do a great job of serving their readers and exposing corrupt public servants. Many more do a great job of publishing photos of their readers, but generally shy away from any exposing of corruption. And some are complete crap. But all of them benefit from the reality that
*their communities are too small for Craigslist to have gotten to (yet)
*in most cases they serve populations less transient and less Internet-addicted than those of big metropolitan areas
*nobody ever looked to them for national or international news, so the fact that you can get all that on the Internet now is irrelevant
*the real estate bust (and real-estate-advertising bust) hammering many newspapers now has been mostly a big-metro-area phenomenon.
Update: I figure I should add commenter Richard Karpel’s two excellent additions to my list:
* The median age of residents in small markets is much higher than the median age of residents in metro areas. And people who are older are much more likely to read newspapers than the under-35 set.
• The level of PRINT competition in major markets dwarfs that which exists in smaller communities. Every top-25 market has dozens of mostly free, niche publications.