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Robert Trigaux

Newspaper readers still there, but not profits



Newspapers Wake up and good morning. Chilly Rochester, N.Y., may be the top U.S. city for newspaper readership. but Tampa-St. Petersburg and West Palm Beach/Fort Pierce are not far behind and lead all metro areas in Florida and -- in fact -- the entire southeastern United States. So says an analysis by Scarborough Research, which finds a higher percentage of adults in Rochester are reading newspapers in print or online than in any other U.S. market.

Maybe they simply prefer reading a paper to shoveling snow... Just kidding. Scarborough found 87 percent of adults in Rochester read a newspaper in print or online in the past week. That's highest among 81 larger U.S. markets examined. Rochester was closely followed by Cleveland and Buffalo, NY, each at 86 percent. (Though it is curious all three cities are part of the Great Lakes Snow Belt. I'm just saying...)

Nationally, average readership of newspapers is 75 percent. Notably, both Tampa-St. Petersburg and West Palm Beach/Fort Pierce boasted 83 percent of adult readers reading a newspaper in paper or online. After these metro areas, Florida readership declined as follows:

* Orlando/Daytona Beach/Melbourne: 78 percent.

* Fort Myers: 77 percent.

* Mobile (Ala.)/Pensacola: 76 percent.

* Jacksonville: 71 percent.

* Miami/Fort Lauderdale: 70 percent.

At the bottom of the readership heap nationwide is Las Vegas and Bakersfield, Calif., both at just 59 percent.

So what does this mean? I would suggest the data reflect a number of factors that include the typical age of readers in metro areas (older populations are more likely to read paper newspapers). But that may not properly answer the portion of readers who look at newspapers online.

It may reflect the local quality of newspaper information. Presumably people would be drawn to better content, and better organized content, than poor content. It may also reflect the different marketing prowess of newspapers in various markets. And it may reflect the quality of the competition for readership from other publications, online sites and, of course, local TV news and entertainment.

None of this ultimately offers a solution to most newspapers' dilemma: declining circulation and, more to the point, significant drops in advertising.

Scarborough's Gary Meo, senior vice president of print and digital media, offers his thoughts:

"This data begs the question: is the constant negative news feed on the industry warranted when
newspapers are actually being read by three-fourths of the adult population? When you look at audience data, it seems irrational that advertisers are leaving newspapers because the numbers speak for themselves."

I like the sentiment, but "irrational" or not, the newspaper industry is struggling to reinvent itself. There's even a surge of talk about a newspaper industry bailout, or at least turning newspapers into non-profit organizations, as reported this week by U.S News & World Report and the Boston Globe

 We'll continue to explore what's happening at (or is it to?) Tampa Bay and Florida newspapers.

-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist

[Last modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2010 11:24am]


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