By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
A longtime Wyoming newspaper reporter and publisher is about to become president of the country’s largest community newspaper association.
Matt Adelman, publisher of the Douglas Budget for 25 years, will take the helm of the National Newspaper Association during the organization’s annual convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in early October.
The association represents more than 1,700 newspapers across the country, most of them smaller or “community” newspapers that focus their coverage largely on their communities.
It is this dedication to local journalism that is allowing these smaller newspapers to survive and even thrive during an era that has seen significant declines in circulation and even closures among larger metropolitan newspapers, Adelman said.
“The newspapers people hear about are in the mid-range circulation and up, 50,000 to millions,” he said. “Community papers are focused on hyper-local coverage, which is very much in demand. Our readers are very loyal and as long as you are providing good local coverage, you get stable readership.”
Such local newspapers are doing well even though some of the subscribers to their printed product are moving to their online products.
“A lot of people are going digital,” he said. “But digital is still 10 percent or less in terms of revenue streams and circulation. Our overall circulation and financial health is still pretty good. Unfortunately, the news is about everybody who’s doing worse, so the news is that newspapers are heading out the door. And nothing could be further from the truth.”
Adelman began his newspaper career at the Daily Utah Chronicle, the independent student newspaper for the University of Utah and worked for several Wyoming newspapers such as the Thermopolis Independent Record and Cody Enterprise before being picked to head the Douglas Budget in 1994.
After serving on the board of the Wyoming Press Association for several years — including one year as president in 2003 — Adelman joined the NNA as a state ambassador in 2004, moving onto the organization’s board of directors in 2012.
The NNA was formed in 1885 to represent the interests of newspapers at the national level. The group offers training for newspaper employees at gatherings such as its annual convention and lobbies Congress on issues of importance to newspapers.
One of the main issues for the NNA is postal reform, an issue Adelman plans to keep at the top of the NNA’s priority list.
“We are hoping we can get a postal bill out of Congress, one that will provide the Postal Service with much needed stability and control,” he said.
The Postal Service must follow congressional requirements for retirement and health care that leave it unable to manage its own costs, forcing it to boost its rates, Adelman said.
“The upshot is they have to have the ability to deal with their own financial situation with no more processing facility closings and layoffs,” he said.
As newspapers turn increasingly to mail delivery to replace carriers, keeping delivery costs down is very important, he said, as is keeping Postal Service processing centers open to provide for timely delivery.
As head of the NNA, Adelman will also be the “face” for the nation’s small newspapers and will work to convey the message that local newspapers are essential to the well-being of small communities.
He pointed to one study conducted by the University of Notre Dame that showed after a local newspaper closed in a community, the cost of government increased over the next five years by 30 percent.
“We’re the watchdog,” he said. “We’re the public. We’re their eyes and ears at meetings they can’t go to, on budgets they don’t understand or don’t have time to read. If you don’t know if the (government) is hoarding money or they’re broke, then you don’t know the health of your community.”
Another study by the Pew Research Center shows that most local news shared on social media and digital news outlets is actually originated by newspapers.
“Without (local newspapers), that content would be gone,” he said. “People wouldn’t even have access on a social media level to the information you need to make decisions.”
As a result, Adelman said, printed newspapers will remain important to their communities.
“A community newspaper’s job is to watch and provide that content for posterity,” he said. “Once it’s in print, it’s in print forever.”