April 15, 2011

Print Still Matters

The growth of nonprofit media in the last few years has been almost entirely confined to new, on-line publications. They have taken root in cities that have suffered the loss or emaciation of big urban dailies.

But print is still essential in the Bronx communities served by the three local papers I run. The Bronx News Network grew out of the success of the Norwood News, a community newspaper started by Mosholu Preservation Corporation in 1988, because residents in this north Bronx community had no way to communicate with each other or to hold accountable a government that had neglected the borough with disastrous results for two decades.

For the same reasons, we have, in the last five years, launched two bi-lingual monthly print newspapers in adjacent communities, the Tremont Tribune and the Mount Hope Monitor. Each are on the web as well. (The total population of the areas we serve is about 350,000 people, bigger than most cities. Our current combined circulation is 25,000.)

We've linked all these efforts under the umbrella of the Bronx News Network site, which serves as a web portal to all our newspaper sites, and to other Bronx media -- including the nonprofit Hunts Point Express and Mott Haven Herald, published by Bernard Stein and his CUNY students -- but is also updated throughout the day with breaking news and updates. Our hits are slowly growing but as of yet nowhere near our print readership.

We see print as a bridge with one side meeting people where they are -- in their kids' school, at the bank, in church, the barber shop -- so they can pick up news about their neighborhoods for free and eventually entice them to cross over and see what we can offer them on the web, smartphone, etc. (Only about 40% of Bronxites had broadband Internet access of 2008.)

Our print papers are welcome wagons to ever-changing populations, particularly immigrants. They are signals that their neighborhoods are important enough to have a publication and helps them navigate a new country from their block on up and lead them to their communities' civic arenas.

Print is also the best fit at this point for mom-and-pop stores, most of whom can't afford to advertise in the dailies or don't find it wise to advertise to readers beyond their local geographical customer base.

I'll only be a little sad when the last print edition of our papers roll off the presses. Our mission is to inform and empower, and however we can best achieve that is what we'll do.

Meanwhile, funders interested in hyperlocal journalism should be as interested in supporting efforts that reach communities that even the dailies were never able to consistently cover, than with the mechanism that gets us there.

Print is not new, but getting local news -- the kind more affluent communities take for granted -- to the people who need it continues to be. So, let's not write print off until it stops doing its job.

Jordan Moss is executive editor of the Bronx News Network.