International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

MEDIA MATTERS

Posted 1 April 2001 in StressPoints by Terry Clark, Contributing Editor, Media

Theorem: If both groups are to fulfill their responsibilities to the fullest, clinicians need the media, and the media need clinicians. That assumption became axiomatic during one of the breakout sessions at the ISTSS annual meeting in San Antonio.

It should be apparent during times of mass tragedy and trauma -- school shootings, devastating storms, plane crashes, earthquakes, bombings, wars and atrocities -- that the media need access to qualified clinicians to help the victims and to do their jobs better. I will spend more time with practical guidelines on this theorem-axiom in the future.

In the meantime, consider a vital source of publicity, information and public service probably overlooked. I call it the "forgotten press."

In an age of media conglomerates and mergers, many academics and industry experts think of the media as TV, cable, magazines, the Internet and flagship metropolitan newspapers.

Consider the "community press," composed primarily of weekly newspapers and many small daily papers. For the purpose of this article, weekly is defined as newspapers printed three or fewer times per week, and many of them have free circulation. Newspapers are categorized by the size of their circulation.

Largest are the Wall Street Journal at 1.75 million and USA Today at 1.67 million and steady. Overlooking these newspapers while trying to reach the public would be like ignoring antidepressants to treat depression.

Consider these facts:

  • America's largest newspapers -- The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, etc. -- account for less than 5 percent of American newspaper circulation.
  • Fewer people subscribe to daily newspapers now than they did 30 years ago.
  • Approximately 57 million people subscribe to daily newspapers now compared to 62 million in 1970. What's happened to the population in that time?
  • More people read and subscribe to weekly newspapers than the dailies. A total of about 74 million Americans subscribe to weekly newspapers. That's up from 27 million people subscribing in 1970.

And if small dailies -- those with a circulation of fewer than 25,000 -- were included, the figures would be even more astounding.

What has happened? Many things; but the prime factor is coverage of local news. If it's local, Americans are interested. Also there have been changes in American demographics and the growth of city and suburbs. Thirty years ago, most weekly newspapers were still "country" weeklies, published in small cities and towns and rural areas across the country.

Now a huge number are "suburban" weeklies, serving specific neighborhoods. Dozens of weekly or small daily papers permeate every major American city now served by one metro newspaper. For example, Oklahoma City, a small city, has 14 community papers besides one metro, and that doesn't include adjacent counties within commuting distance or the several free-circulation newspapers.

Another trend: Sunday daily newspaper circulation typically is more than weekday. For instance, the Oklahoma City metro newspaper has approximately 200,000 weekday subscribers and 280,000 Sunday subscribers. Two other trends: corporatization and free-circulation papers.

Now that almost all American daily newspapers are members of corporate chains (fewer than 300 are independently owned daily papers), corporations are buying the profitable weeklies. And free-circulation newspapers are increasing and gaining in acceptance, especially with younger readers. These "properties" are bought to make money, and

70 percent to 80 percent of their income comes from advertising. Subscription rates barely pay for the cost of printing. The larger a paper's circulation, the more it can charge for advertising. That means community papers must continue attracting readers with their bread and butter -- local news. And that's where members come in -- with expertise in serving victims and the community. First, you should contact your state's press association, usually located in a state's capital city, and buy a media guide that lists all the press association members. Some larger states have weekly and daily press associations, plus regional press associations. Locate the newspapers in your service area and buy a copy of each. Also pick up the free-circulation papers in your area -- most press associations don't accept them as members.

Find the names of the newspaper editors and publication days. What's next depends on you, but don't call for appointments on deadline days: these newspapers are short-staffed and busy.

Look for more information about working with and understanding the press in future columns.

Note: Circulation facts come from The Newspaper Association of America.