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Fall conference: New England Newspaper & Press Association

Bill Densmore's notes from the fall meeting of the New England Newspaper & Press Association, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Natick, Mass.

Oreste D'Arconte, president of the Attleboro Sun Chronicle, and NENPA board chair, introduces. The theme of the conference: The economy. What can newspaper leaders do to cope, adjust and thrive? An assessment of where we stand comes from Amy Mitchell, the deputy director of the Pew Center Project for Excellence in Journalism. <>

A brief overview of where news are in relation to other sectors in the media.

"The industry is in a worse position than most other sectors."

She shows a chart showing ad revenues in 2010 vs. 2009 -- Local TV up, oneline up, CAble TV up, network TV up, audio and magazines up, but the newspaper down 6.3 percent.

"Most newspapers are still making a profit -- the average is about 5 percent."

"What we are hearing this year is a really heightened sense of confusion, regret, grimness, a sense of loss, and confusion about where to head next -- what should our special and original content be? And some frustration as editors try to keep up with the latest twitter, latest application and still try to do more with less resources."

"We just have to start charging for content, period, there is no more waiting, no more watching."

The years of managing the decline is not over.

The determination that newspapers must come up with the answer doesn't mean they will succeed. She will talk about how PEJ is working to try and help be a facilitator.

The main challenge is the shift in power that is not full appreciated. The biggest issue ahead is not lack of audience or revenue, but that the digital realm in the "news industry is no longer in control of its own future."

Lots of reliance on advertising ad networks and content aggregators and search engines. And device makers control access to the public. Each device requires a new software program. "This is costly, often too costly and confusing for local news organizations." In can be too much multitasking. "So how can a news organization not be there." The industry is now struggling to keep up.

The most important challenge: The technology companies control the consumer data. "Not just the data about what they do on your website, but what else they do ... and they can sell that content to advertisers."

IN a user-controlled world, that audience data will be the key to the future, she says.

Another important challenge -- being able to see who your audience is and how to manage it.

Surveying local sources of news

Mitchell now turns to talking about the results of the latest Pew survey on where people get their news. Word of mouth (55%) is the second most mentioned source after television (74%), especially among 18-29-year-olds. After word of mouth comes radio (51%), local newspaper and/or website (50%), Internet (47%), and print newsletters (9%).

"So the social networking has really brought back one of the most traditional forms of communication we have had," she said.

Surveyors next asked where people go for news by topic. People go to TV for weather and breaking news. TV tied for the lead with newspapers on politics. Newspapers ranked first in 11 of the top 16 topics. "They are mostly the civic-oriented topics, but they are ones that fewer people follow on a regular basis."

The topics, in ranked order of their listed importance to respondents, were: Crime, local politics, community events, arts events, local taxes, schools, housing, government activities, local jobs, zoning and development and social services.

Use of the web

"Those that have the web and are comfortable with the web have already made the switch for most topics," said Mitchell. "So what opportunity does this suggest for newspapers?"

Two fold: Work on the misperception that it wouldn't matter if the newspaper went way. The other -- "The future will be on the web. Newspapers already have a much greater presence on the web than a lot of other outfits." Newspapers could be weather and traffic sources on the web. "That is an area that newspapers can now compete in digitally that they couldn't in their print product."

One other project embarked on