Kevin Slimp made a name for himself by learning how to use and explain the rapidly changing technology available to American newspapers.
He has appeared at newspaper association conventions all over the United States and Canada for seminars on such complex software as Photoshop, InDesign and Quark, as well as new hardware tools that hit the market.
Chances are that you’ve used an innovation inspired by his work by downloading a “PDF” document, originally developed in the 1990s as a remote printing method.
Now he’s taking his message a giant step further by contradicting those who contend that the newspaper industry is dying.
Slimp, who is director of the Institute of Newspaper Technology and a faculty member at the University of Tennessee College of Communication and Information, was the keynote speaker Friday at the annual convention of the Arkansas Press Association in Eureka Springs. His appearance was sponsored in part by the Arkansas Newspaper Foundation, for which I serve as treasurer.
At his website, he bills himself as a newspaper guru. His message to Arkansas editors and publishers last week was basically this: “Quit worrying about what everybody is telling you (about the impending death of newspapers) and keep putting out a good newspaper.”
The problem is that too many publishers are forgetting that primary mission — to publish a good newspaper. Staff cutbacks and early press deadlines make that hard to do.
Slimp told of his involvement as an informal consultant after the “reorganization” of the New Orleans Times-Picayune last year. Advance Publications, owned by the Newhouse family, switched the daily newspaper to three times a week in traditional broadsheet form and three times a week in an electronic only format. The Saturday publication is just an early print edition of the Sunday paper with some breaking news.
If you think that’s confusing, imagine how New Orleans subscribers must have felt.
After Advance Chairman Steve Newhouse announced the plan, similarly applied to the company’s newspapers in Mobile, Birmingham and Huntsville, Ala., Slimp said, he was contacted by a man representing various well-heeled New Orleans residents who abhorred the move. They believed New Orleans would not be considered an attractive location as a city without a daily newspaper.
Slimp said he consulted with the group, which considered offering to buy the Times-Picayune or starting their own newspaper, and advised them that some other company would probably see the market potential and move in quickly.
Sure enough, last October The Advocate of Baton Rouge established a New Orleans bureau and launched a daily New Orleans edition. Within months that edition’s circulation had climbed to more than 20,000.
More significantly, on May 1 wealthy businessman John Georges, one of the New Orleans people who had been upset by the Advance move and its refusal to sell the Times-Picayune, announced the purchase of The Advocate. Georges hired two former Times-Picayune editors to head his New Orleans edition.
Georges was accompanied at the news conference by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, indicating that the home team has chosen sides. Last July, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., wrote a hot letter to Newhouse, warning, “From a pure business perspective, you’re about to get smoked.”
Meanwhile, the Times-Picayune started a three-times-weekly tabloid publication called TPStreet on its previously electronic-only days, but it is available only on newsstands.
Another “Battle of New Orleans” is obviously well under way.
Slimp is not the only one offering hopeful news for the American newspaper industry and its most loyal readers.
The Alliance for Audited Media (formerly Audit Bureau of Circulations) has reported a welcome stabilization in daily newspaper circulation over the past two years. The main reason is the growth of paid digital circulation, which this March represented 19.3 percent of U.S. daily newspapers’ total average circulation, up from 14.2 percent a year ago.
That’s an indication Americans are looking for newspapers, in whatever form, to deliver the community information and advertising they want. Newspapers own 11 of the top 25 news and information sites online.
A new study released last week by the Pew Internet & American Life Project disputes the common belief that young people aren’t interested in the printed page, commonly considered as symptomatic of the decline of newspapers.
Americans between 16 and 29 have been labeled “digital natives” since they came of age in the Internet era. Despite their heavy dependence on smart phones, tablets and other computers, some 75 percent of the young people surveyed said they had read at least one book in the past year. That’s compared to 64 percent of adults age 30 and older.
While none of the questions specifically targeted newspapers, the fact that young people still have a high regard for the printed page is encouraging.
Research by the Readership Institute at Northwestern University found that 52 percent of consumers say that newspapers are where they go to check out advertisements — 5 percent more than any other medium; that 46 percent say that newspapers are their preferred medium for ad information, while television comes in fourth at 10 percent.
Indeed, Slimp said that many advertisers are finding that they get greater return for their ad dollars in print publications than in other media and that digital advertising doesn’t even come close.
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Roy Ockert is editor emeritus of The Jonesboro Sun. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.