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Burriss on Media: Newspaper

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (BURRISS)  --  It seems almost an article of business faith that as revenues shrink you make the product smaller in an effort to save money. And for years it seems that newspapers have followed that model: as advertising revenue has gone down, newspapers have gotten smaller and smaller, with fewer stories, fewer reporters and, as a result, fewer reasons to buy the paper in the first place.

But for years, some of us have been saying, "Wait a minute. You're cutting the very reason people buy the paper in the first place. The public isn't buying newsprint, it's buying content. And if content shrinks, readership and circulation will shrink as well."

Now, the Orange County Register, based in Santa Ana, California, has taken a bold new step that is apparently paying off. The paper recently hired dozens of reporters, added substantial new sections, and got rid of an on-line edition. And guess what: circulation has increased, even with an increase in subscription prices.

To be sure, the register hasn't abandoned its electronic versions, and there is still an effort to get the latest news to the public as soon as possible. But on-line readership has leveled or actually declined, while print newspapers all over the country are showing smaller declines, or in some cases actual increases in circulation.

In many ways, good reporting is a money-losing proposition: it takes money, lots of money, to hire reporters and photographers to staff bureaus and cover all of the news that needs to be reported. Unfortunately, the folks in "accounting," the people I not-so-fondly refer to as "bean counters," only look at the bottom line, and tend to ask, "Why do we need reporters based across the state, when they only give us a few stories a year?" The answer is, because reporters need to be there, understanding what is going on, before the big story breaks.

For years people have been saying that newspapers are dead. But if the Orange County Register succeeds, then maybe more and more papers will go back to what they used to do best: giving us the news we need, without fear or favorer, and without regard to cost.
I'm Larry Burriss.

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