HURON — Changing demographics and the Internet are two major challenges facing newspapers, but in South Dakota readership remains strong and the industry is adapting to the digital age, the general manager of the state’s newspaper association said.
Billionaire businessman and investor Warren Buffett has raised eyebrows in the last four or five years by spending $344 million to buy newspapers.
“If Warren Buffett sees something there, then maybe there is something there,” Dave Bordewyk said at the Beadle County Democratic Forum on Thursday.
The South Dakota Newspaper Association represents 130 daily and weekly newspapers. Bordewyk serves as general manager and chief lobbyist.
With the advent of the Internet, many have looked upon the newspaper industry as a dying breed, especially with the start of the Great Recession in 2008.
“But surprisingly we’re still here and still publishing and doing things,” Bordewyk said. “Our newspapers are doing OK. I think that’s the bottom line message.”
Buffett believes that if people want to know what’s going on in their community, there’s no substitute for the local newspaper if it’s doing its job, Bordewyk said.
Newspapers face the same challenge as other Main Street businesses – that of demographics. It is most apparent in rural areas, where populations are dwindling.
When Bordewyk became general manager of SDNA in 1995, South Dakota had 142 newspapers. A dozen have since stopped publishing. In that same 18 years, the number of publisher-owners has gone from about 99 down to about 73 with consolidation.
“The reason for that is that’s the only way they can make them work economically,” he said.
A publisher 20 years ago may have been able to stay afloat with just one newspaper. Today, six or seven may be needed to remain solvent.
But another irrefutable fact is that newspaper readership in the state remains high.
A statewide poll by the association shows that 75 percent of adults read their local newspaper, or 9 percent higher than the national average. Total circulation is about 300,000, with some of those subscribers living outside of South Dakota.
For every newspaper that is purchased, two people will read it, doubling total circulation to 600,000.
“I think that’s pretty darn good,” Bordewyk said.
“We also have more newspapers in South Dakota per capita than any state in the country,” he said.
As he lobbies each winter in Pierre, Bordewyk and the association members focus on keeping strong open meetings and open records laws as well as a public notice law.
“You need those three legs of that stool in order to maintain good, strong open government, transparent government, in South Dakota,” he said.
Newspapers are important to democracy and the U.S. form of government, he said.
“We need journalists who will poke and prod and ask those tough questions,” Bordewyk said.
From the Washington Post on down to the local community paper, the Internet has forced publishers to adjust their business models to accommodate online readers.
“That being said, the print version is still very strong,” he said. “People still want to, I believe, hold up a paper version of the newspaper and read that in their hands.”
But even the smallest of newspapers are now selling electronic subscriptions. They are increasingly popular, for example, among South Dakotans who spend their winters in warmer states.
For the complete article see the 10-20-2013 issue.
Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 10-20-2013 paper.