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Americans depend on newspapers to stay informed about their communities

National Newspaper Week is October 1-6.

by Benjy Hamm

Nearly 220 million American adults turn to their local newspapers regularly for news and information they need to stay informed, feel more connected to their neighbors and improve their lives and communities.

That readership number is based on a recent national study by independent research firm Coda Ventures for the America’s Newspapers organization.

Most likely, the number of readers is higher. Many people who say they receive news on their phone or from social media instead of newspapers fail to understand that the sources for those stories are often journalists at U.S. newspapers.

We sometimes take the work of journalists for granted, but those who work at newspapers are filling an important role in the health of our communities and country.

Everyone, even nonreaders, benefits from the work of journalists. News coverage has led to improvements in food safety, decreases in traffic and plane fatalities, better care for veterans and nursing home patients, support for victims of natural disasters and exposure of all sorts of wrongdoing.

I have long loved this quotation by Frank Batten Sr., a media visionary and former chairman of Landmark Communications, who said about journalists and newspapers: “Our calling was never more important. We have the capacity to inform, to enlighten, to awaken and to inspire. We have the opportunity to enrich the lives of thousands of people every day.”

Across the U.S., journalists and other newspaper employees are serving their communities and democracy every day by informing, enlightening, awakening and inspiring millions of readers.

The news they provide is accessed in many forms. Many people still use the word newspaper as the all-encompassing term for those various forms, but now news is delivered through websites, social media, electronic editions, email alerts and newsletters, in addition to the traditional printed paper.

Those delivery methods have changed significantly in recent years. But one thing remains constant: Americans depend on the trusted news coverage provided by newspapers.

The study by Coda Ventures, based on surveys of 5,000 people, revealed that respondents ranked local newspapers and their websites as the most accurate sources of original news reporting. The results also listed the top five reasons Americans seek out local news—to stay informed, feel connected in the community, decide where they stand on local issues, find places and things to do and talk to other people about community news.

Survey respondents consistently said they prefer newspapers in print and digital formats over TV, radio and social media as their main source for news and information important to them.

They like the fact that newspapers use different ways to deliver their news stories to various audiences. The survey showed that people who are 39 and younger listed social media as the No. 1 way they prefer to access news, though they also like news websites and email alerts. People in the 40 to 74 age group ranked news websites as their top choice, followed by email alerts and the printed newspaper. Those 75 and older prefer the print edition but also like news websites and email alerts.

Based on the frequent reports of struggles within the news business, many people might be surprised to learn that newspapers and their digital offerings reach so many readers. Those struggles, primarily financial, are real and affect many media companies, not just newspapers. But the new ways of delivering news allow newspapers to reach even larger audiences.

Frank Batten might not have anticipated the widespread use of the internet and social media when he first made his comments in the 1980s, but his words remain true today.

Newspapers and their dedicated employees continue to inform, enlighten, awaken and inspire—enriching their communities and the lives of millions of people who benefit from their work every day.

Benjy Hamm is director of the Institute for Rural Journalism, University of Kentucky.

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