Papers reaching a significant population

A national poll of Canadian adults has found that nearly two-thirds - about 13 million people - read their community newspaper, and of those that do, the vast majority - nearly eight out of 10 - read it every week.The report,...

A national poll of Canadian adults has found that nearly two-thirds – about 13 million people – read their community newspaper, and of those that do, the vast majority – nearly eight out of 10 – read it every week.

The report, by Angus Reid Group, says that in an era in which the conventional wisdom is that the print media are ‘dying,’ these findings are especially significant.

‘Once known as the invisible medium, community newspapers are becoming an increasingly important media sector, not just because of their growing circulation, but also because of their expanding role and influence in Canadian communities from coast to coast,’ the report says.

‘Millions of Canadians read their community newspaper every week, and they read it with intense interest because it relates to issues and events affecting their families and communities,’ it says.

‘Even with the global village of the electronic age upon us, people remain focussed on the issues and events that hit closest to home.

‘They rely on their community newspapers to report these events, and examine those issues.’

The poll of 1,005 Canadians in b.c., Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada, comprises one part of a two-part survey of community newspaper publishers, editors, reporters and readers by Angus Reid Group, a research firm with six offices across Canada and in Minneapolis.

Much of the syndicated study focusses on the results of 150 in-depth interviews conducted in July and August with community newspaper publishers, editors and reporters.

The reader poll was conducted as a companion survey, intended to put the comments of the community newspaper staff into context.

The report, entitled the ‘Second Annual Canadian Media Review: Community Newspapers and Shaping Public Opinion,’ was written primarily for public affairs and media relations practitioners who want to better use community newspapers as a conduit for their clients’ messages.

But the results of the readership survey are also relevant to national advertisers and media buyers, who need to assess whether community newspapers are an appropriate vehicle for their advertising.

The report says most media relations practitioners concentrate their time and effort on bigger fish – Canadian Press, Southam News, Thomson News, The Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star, and so on – but, given the broad reach and long shelf-life of the weeklies, would do well to pay more attention to community newspapers.

‘One would think that for anyone trying to get a message across to Canadians, these community newspapers would look like 950 little gold mines (indeed, a number of them are big gold mines) scattered across the country,’ the report says.

‘Instead, many communications departments treat them with about as much respect as 950 little ant hills, and get about as much out of them as you would expect to get out of 950 little ant hills,’ it says.

Respondents to the reader poll were asked 10 questions about their reading habits, and were read a further 10 statements about community newspapers with which they were asked to indicate their level of agreement or disagreement.

The responses to each question were broken down by region, age, sex, education level, household income and community size.

The report found a full 65% of those surveyed said they read their community newspaper, which, for the purposes of the survey, was described as ‘a paper that comes out weekly and focusses on news and events in your own local area.’

(Some community newspapers are published twice or even three times weekly.)

Not surprisingly, perhaps, readership was strongest in b.c., with 73% of respondents saying they read a community newspaper.

(b.c. has one of the country’s most highly developed community newspaper industries, with papers owned by two chains, the Vancouver Area Newspaper Network and the MetroValley Newspaper Group going head-to-head in many markets.)

Readership was also strong in Manitoba/Saskatchewan, with 70% of respondents reporting they read their community paper, and, in Quebec, with 69% of those surveyed responding in the affirmative.

Readership was weakest in Atlantic Canada, where only 55% of those called qualified to answer further questions.

Across major socio-demographic segments, readership was slightly stronger among women, with 67% of them reporting they read their community paper, and 62% of men saying the same.

With respect to age, readership was highest among those 35-54, with 71% of those surveyed saying they read their community paper.

Those in the 55+ age bracket came in second – 66% of ‘seniors’ said they were community newspaper readers.

Respondents aged 18-34 were less likely than other age groups to read a weekly, with only 58% of them responding positively.

Of those that answered ‘yes’ to the qualifying question, 81% of those surveyed said they read their community newspaper every week, with a further 11% reporting they read it every other week.

When broken down regionally, response to this question was remarkably consistent, with at least three-quarters of respondents across the country saying they read their paper every week.

Among loyal readers, those in the 55+ age group were more likely than others to read their paper consistently, with those in the 35-54 demographic following behind, and, finally, those 18-34, of which 74% said they read their weekly all the time.

As well, there was almost no variation in response to the frequency question when it came to income levels.

Respondents with a household income of $60,000 or more were just as likely to read their community paper every week as those with household incomes of under $30,000.

(Percentages were 82% and 81%, respectively.)

Asked how thoroughly they read their community newspapers, more than one-third of respondents said they read it ‘cover to cover.’

A further 53% said they read whatever interests them, while only 11% said they give it a quick glance.

And a full 93% of respondents said they read their community newspaper even though a larger daily newspaper was available to them in their local area.

The report says weeklies are often regarded with more affection by readers than their daily counterparts, in part because many dailies ‘speak from farther away – particularly with the reduced coverage of outlying areas that has been forced upon many newsrooms because of financial constraints.’

A full 35% of readers agreed completely with the statement ‘my community newspaper has a small town flavor that is important in this day and age.’