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The appearance has changed, but not the quality

There is little doubt that like many businesses, the media industry has made dramatic changes the past 200-plus years. The Selma Times-Journal of today is dramatically different from the one that rolled off antiquated presses for the first time in 1827, and The Selma Times-Journal 20 years from now will likely be much different than what you hold in your hands, or read on our Web site, today.

Many in the media have what I consider to be the misconception that print media is dying, that electronic media is quickly replacing print media, so your children’s children will someday have to be shown archival copies of newspapers to see what one actually looks like.

I remember in the 1980s when USA Today launched, complete with its dramatic color design, shorter stories, graphics and information. Newspaper purists around the country talked of how USA Today wouldn’t last because it wasn’t the way newspapers had traditionally looked. In other words, readers wouldn’t buy it.

Today, USA Today is the largest circulation newspaper in the country and has dramatically changed newspapers forever. After it was introduced, you saw newspapers around the country add more color, put an emphasis on more and shorter stories and adding non-traditional content.

In the 1990s, the obituary for newspapers was prematurely written with the advent of the Internet and online news sites, but today, in nearly every community, the local newspaper’s Web site is the most visited. In Selma, our Web site (selmatimesjournal.com) receives more than 90,000 unique visitors each month, and that figure has grown with the launch of our new Web site in July, while our print product has maintained its penetration in the markets we serve.

While many things have changed regarding how information is delivered to the masses, the cost of delivering information has changed, too. You have to look no further than the products on your grocery store’s shelves or the price at the pump to know it gets costlier to do business from year-to-year, and businesses have to pass those costs along to the consumer.

In regard to publishing a newspaper, the single biggest cost beyond payroll is the paper we print on, which is why I’m sure you’ve noticed that today’s version of The Selma Times-Journal is narrower that the edition you held yesterday. The decision to go to a narrower width newspaper is economic, allowing us the chance to keep newsprint costs as low as possible without having to dramatically change advertising or circulation rates.

It’s important to note that what we’ve done in reducing our newspaper width is not unique to our industry. “Narrower web widths,” as its called in the industry, are becoming more commonplace. Many newspapers in the state, from the large metro dailies to community weekly newspapers, have reduced their web widths to compensate for escalating newsprint prices, which are now running (for us) 30 percent ahead of where they were last year because mergers have taken away capacity in the marketplace.

Although the steps in making a newspaper have changed — and the format by which readers get their news has changed — the same dedication to community service and quality has not. The same passion and commitment to publish a good newspaper everyday for our readers and to have a vehicle that generates commerce for our advertisers remains our number one priority.

Dennis Palmer is publisher of The Selma Times-Journal and selmatimesjournal.com. He can be reached at 410-1712, or by email: dennis.palmer@selmatimesjournal.com.