Threat, What Threat?

Article excerpt

Specialists in newspaper finance see strengths where others find doom

Doomsayers notwithstanding, newspapers can anticipate good health for years to come, though they'll likely return to their roots as a medium for elite readers, a university researcher predicts.

In fact, the trend already is underway as upscale readers have become a stabilizing factor in the nation's press, said Jeffrey Brody, co-author with Robert Picard of the book The Newspaper Publishing Industry: A Turning Point. Both teach in the School of Communications at California State University, Fullerton.

Fears about the newspaper industry's survival "are totally out of proportion to the reality of the actual situation," Brody said. Articles in journalism reviews about newspaper industry problems "are skewed in that they are geared to major metropolitan papers. The bulk of the industry is doing just fine. Most newspapers are used to double-digit profits."

The average U.S. daily circulation is 40,000, and average papers are more than holding their own, Brody told the Society of Professional Journalists convention in Universal City, Calif. Oct. 22-25. Yet "the popular perception is that the industry is dominated by the New York Times Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and other major papers, f which there are only about 10 in the entire country."

The death or consolidation of newspapers in major cities has created a false impression that the industry is in serious trouble -- despite the fact that most papers are profitable and have loyal readers, Brody pointed out. Moreover, the number of dailies has remained essentially flat - close to 1,600 since 1950, thanks mainly to gains among smaller papers. "There won't be a shock in this business for at least two generations," he predicted.

Newspaper revenues could grow faster if publishers asked readers to pay more. Echoing a theme popularized by Gannett Co. chief Allen H. Neuharth a decade ago, Brody said that at 25> or 50> newspapers are a good value, but readers "could be conditioned to pay more. …