You’re always on the path to building a better paper

Published 8:42 am Tuesday, July 10, 2012

For the first time ever, the Press Associations of Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana met in a joint convention this past week at the beautiful Sandestin Resort near Destin, Fla. Billed as the Southeastern Press Associations Convention, it brought some of the most successful and storied members of the newspaper business together.

And then there was me.

I am proud of the progress and success we have made in the one and a half years that I have been the publisher of a weekly newspaper. However, I was somewhat surprised and shocked to discover that I might have been the newest member of this esteemed community without being a corporate or family member of the ownership of a paper.

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The newspaper business has consolidated quite a bit as the digital age has begun to compete with the printed newspaper. Many papers have been purchased by larger corporate conglomerates. Some are national or regional publishers focusing on larger daily papers. Some are companies focusing on mid- to smaller-tier markets, including the parent of The Post-Searchlight.

Search as I might, however, I could not find a single owner of a newspaper, large or small, that had purchased a newspaper in the past few years from outside the industry other than me.

In some ways I searched for validation about my purchase of a newspaper. Is there a future in a small-town weekly? Can the Internet provide what our local communities want? Can we provide enough local content and news that will attract both the readers and the advertisers required to keep a paper afloat?

The results of my meetings are somewhat mixed. The challenges for newspapers are greater than they have been in the past hundred years. Young people aren’t reading papers, preferring to get their news from the internet, radio, or not at all.

Young adults, and even older ones, are finding the iPad and other tablets, including smart phones, to be capable of providing their news on demand. Why read a newspaper if you are only interested in a few things?

Perhaps that is the dilemma of the news revolution. If we are only interested in just a few things, will we ever learn or be aware of those things outside our area of interest? You can “Google” Donalsonville or Bainbridge or Southwest Georgia, but you will only find a couple of items that have found their way onto the internet.

What about the local citizens that have passed away? What about the kid that hit a homerun in Little League in front of his grandparents? What about the cheerleaders and scouts and students who excel in so many different ways? Who will cover their achievements, if not the local papers?

I have always had a great appreciation of our area newspapers, perhaps because of my political background. Of the five counties that I represented in the Georgia General Assembly, all had papers that took their mission seriously and held their elected officials accountable, including me.

Billy and Judy Fleming in Blakely, Terry and Betty Jo Toole in Colquitt, Randy and Mesha Wind in Cairo, Sam and Mary Ann Griffin in Bainbridge and Jeff Findley behind them, and finally Bo and Carolyn McLeod in our own Donalsonville News have been supportive of my own journey. But more importantly, they have given me examples to follow.

In meeting after meeting, I learned how complex this business has become. I took two pages of notes about the new postal regulations. I listened about how to properly design a paper, how to generate revenue from the Internet, and about the myriad of new postal regulations that affect newspapers, just as they affect other businesses.

I learned about how larger papers are adapting to the multi-media world we live in and how smaller papers are broadening their reach to be able to tap into revenues that will allow us all to survive.

It is interesting that, after hearing so much negative commentary about the state of the newspaper business, I left more encouraged about the possible success of our own newspaper than ever before. The reason was simply the people that have gone before me and that live and breathe the newspaper industry.

There is no other vehicle that can provide local news, community events, family coverage, and local sports better than community newspapers. I left energized that we can do better. We can have an expanded role in providing relevant information that will not be available anywhere else.

If we do our job, and provide our reading public with local news and information that is not available anywhere else, in a variety of formats, then The Post-Searchlight, The Cairo Messenger, The Miller County Liberal, The Early County Times and The Donalsonville News will be around for many years to come.

Congratulations to The Cairo Messenger for receiving the “General Excellence Award” in its category. You set an example for all of us to follow.

Dan Ponder can be reached at