REGION — The fate of the local newspaper — often seen as an important entity struggling financially to stay afloat — has been receiving increased attention lately by experts tuned into the watchdog effects that local news coverage has on local government.
A 2018 report released by the Social Science Research Network, for instance, reveals that when a local newspaper closes, the community it represents undergoes increased government inefficiency and waste.
Furthermore, more extensive coverage of local elections leads to increased civic engagement and voter turnout, according to a 2015 Brookings Institution report. On the flip side, residents are less apt to vote for congressional races that receive limited coverage, which can lead to landslide victories and legislators less willing to compromise.
While there are some places where print newspapers continue to thrive, particularly in areas where older adults live, the general trend is one of declining print circulation. The fact that the internet has completely shaken up the news industry is an understatement.
Age plays a major factor in preferences for print versus digital news. A 2016 Pew Research Center survey found that only 5 percent of adults ages 18 to 29 often read a print newspaper for news compared to 48 percent of adults 65 and older.
A print newspaper in Central Florida called The Villages Daily Sun covers news and events for a growing retirement community. Its weekday circulation of 55,700 represents an increase of 169 percent since 2003. But over that same time period, weekday newspaper circulation across the U.S. has declined 43 percent, according to The New York Times.
The Coast News — originally called The Beach News when Jim Kydd, who is still the publisher, launched the paper in 1987 — has experienced circulation changes that match the general trend nationwide.
At its peak in 2007, The Coast News and its affiliate editions had a combined weekly print circulation of 80,000. Today Coast News Group circulates between 35,000 and 40,000 print newspapers a week, with the Inland Edition and Rancho Santa Fe News alternating every other week. The online version launched in 2001.
Chris Kydd, the associate publisher of The Coast News, said, “We provide circulation that meets demand.” He stated, “Nothing will ever replace print in the sense that you can stick a printed newspaper ad on a fridge and it doesn’t go away, unlike the constant flashing of our screens.”
Kydd connects that “permanence” with “credibility.” He elaborated, “We are a brick-and-mortar company with people who put their names behind their work.”
At the same time, Kydd acknowledged, “You have to be like a chameleon in this business because it’s a challenge to stay relevant.” He said the Coast News Group will continue adapting to online and social media platforms to deliver news the way people want it.
He doesn’t seem too worried about the outlet’s future.
“We have street cred,” Kydd said. “There are people living here who grew up reading The Coast News. They’re rooting for us to survive, and they come to us to be the ones to tell the stories that matter to them.”
Kydd said he feels “personally blessed by the connectedness” that The Coast News has fostered with the community during his career at the paper.
Some want to safeguard local news and news reporting in general. Theodore Glasser, a professor of communications at Stanford University, told ABC News, “We need to view journalism in the same way that we view libraries and public schools, as absolutely essential to any prospering community.”
Glasser explained how the content published by newspapers gets read by public officials and influences their behavior. And that, he said, is “the power of the press.”