In 1897 American humorist Mark Twain was visiting Europe when rumors starting circulating here in America that he had died. This prompted Twain's famous telegram to his New York editors stating: "The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated." At the Brainerd Dispatch we know how he felt.
National news over the past several months carried any number of reports detailing the impending death of newspapers. Closer to home there have been stories of poor economic performance and resulting layoffs at both the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Minnesota's two largest newspapers. The last round of job cuts at the Star Tribune came with the message that they were needed to keep the paper from losing money within the next couple of years.
Is the Dispatch in trouble; will there be layoffs; will we start cutting features? The basic answer is no, although the current economic slowdown in several sectors is causing us to tighten up and watch our costs.
There's an old Chinese curse that says: "May you live in interesting times." That certainly applies to today's newspapers. The average citizen isn't any less interested in information these days - they just aren't getting it from the same sources they used to.
Newspapers today exist in the most competitive era we've ever seen. For decades we've faced radio, television, shoppers and magazines - but today the Internet is the new kid on the block. Fortunately for us, what appears to be our toughest competitor may actually be our savior.
At a time when the air is filled with stories of plummeting circulation - and thus the declining influence - of newspapers, the Brainerd Dispatch is doing well. Our Sunday circulation is holding steady at about 18,000 copies, with weekdays at about 13,000. Using the national average of just more than two readers per copy we have approximately 40,000 readers on any given Sunday.
Some folks have said that we're just staying stagnant in an area where population is growing, thus the Dispatch is facing declining market penetration. But they've forgotten the Internet.
The Dispatch online site - brainerddispatch.com - is booming. Because we require readers to register before using our site we know how many electronic readers we have and quite a bit about them. Take a look at these numbers:
More than 64,000 registered users.
And of those, more than 42,000 are active and regular users of the site.
In any given month we have more than 65,000 unique visits, and they read more than 1.75 million pages.
More than 56 percent of our online readers are female.
All of this is exciting for us at the Dispatch. But there are two other factors that I'd like to share.
First, is the age of those reading the Dispatch online. We have 54 percent of our registered users in the age group from 18 to 44, with another 23 percent from ages 45 to 54. This effectively counters those who say our print readership is old and getting older by the minute.
Second, is the most powerful factor of all. Namely, that 90 percent of those who read brainerddispatch.com don't subscribe to the print version of the Dispatch. It's a whole new group of people who want to see what the Dispatch has to say.
This fact is not lost on our advertisers, who - in increasing numbers - are investing dollars in getting their message in front of both our print and online readers. After all, it's a chance to reach two distinct audiences.
Our Dispatch team has worked hard to make ourselves relevant in this quickly changing media landscape. The combined numbers of 40,000 print readers on Sunday and more than 42,000 active users online is the largest media audience in the lakes area, and attests to the fact we're doing something right.
Or, as Mark Twain might well have said, we're not quite dead yet.
TERRY McCOLLOUGH, publisher of the Brainerd Dispatch, may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5874.
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