Observations from community newspaper conference

On Sept. 7 I attended the annual meeting of the Association of Independent Publishers (community newspaper publishers) in Johannesburg. The day of training sessions and talks is very similar to the sessions at journalism conferences in the U.S. The softwear session was how to use all of Adobe’s prodcuts to create graphics, edit photos, layout and design pages and set everything up for publishing in print and on the web. I also attended a session describing the voluntary Press Council of South Africa, which chooses a ombusdman empowered to hear complaints against the press.

The colleague who brought me here, Fanie Groenewald, a journalism lecturer at Tshwane University of Technology, conducted a panel on copyright and plagiarism. He clearly has a good relationship with a lot of these publishers and editors.

The several publishers I spoke with all said their circulation is slowly rising and has not fallen. The sessions were heavily focused on the revenue side. One publilsher told me that an online site is an expense that he can’t afford until it can make enough money to pay for itself. Another said that it is not typical here for a newspaper to offer a service like SMS alerts for free. New products like that typically are not offered until they are accompanied by a revenue stream.

Several publishers said that if they put their newspapers online, they will be scooping their main money-maker, their print product, and will be alerting their competitors to their stories. These are the same arguments U.S. publishers made about 10 years ago when they were trying to figure out what they should be doing online and how that product should relate to their print product.

Until online ads become more profitable, these community newspaper publishers have little interest in developing sophisticated and expensive web sites.

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