San Diego Business Journal

As many daily publications face a steady decline in readership while competing with the numerous national, regional and online news outlets, the bond between a neighborhood and its community newspaper remains unbroken.

Community newspapers have found their niche in the industry, differing from other news organizations in that the coverage is entirely focused on local businesses, residents and issues.

"People that live here in California want a sense of community. They want something to reinforce that sense of community," said Jim Kydd, the publisher of the Coast News, a weekly publication covering the North County coastal communities of Carlsbad, Del Mar, Oceanside, Encinitas and Solana Beach. "And a community newspaper does that."

In San Diego, the number of local community publications amounts to 30, according to the Web site of the San Diego Press Club, a member organization consisting of public relations and journalism professionals.

The community publications have survived in a market heavily penetrated by other news outlets, such as cable TV, radio stations, news magazines and the Internet, through their ability to deliver localized coverage.

In the last six months, several publications focusing on local news have been launched, including the Coast News' two new newspapers, the Rancho Santa Fe News and the Village and Valley News, targeted at residents in Del Mar, Carmel Valley and Rancho Santa Fe.

La Jolla-based Copley Press, Inc., publisher of the daily publication the San Diego Union-Tribune, also launched its newest venture into community news coverage with Today's Local News, which publishes six days a week and touts its unique approach to neighborhood news coverage.

Growing Market

The new publications are a sign that community newspapers have become a growth market, Kydd said.

"I feel that a business has to grow or it dies," he said of his 18-year-old company. "And we wouldn't be here if we weren't making a profit."

Kydd said the Coast News has a circulation of 30,000, with the two new publications expected to have a combined circulation of 28,100.

And while community papers are seeing growth, the daily publications, which were once perceived as a dominant voice in the community, have been struggling to keep their market share.

The Union-Tribune has experienced a decrease in circulation for its Sunday edition during the last several years, dropping from 433,859 in 2002 to 430,840 in 2003. Nationwide, the circulation for daily publications' Sunday editions, commonly considered one of the most highly read editions, dropped 12 percent since 1985, according to Editor & Publisher, a trade publication covering the newspaper industry.

Yet, the continuity of community newspapers in San Diego remains strong, as many papers have been established for at least 10 years, with Poway's Pomerado Newspaper Group, one of the oldest community newspaper groups in the county, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

The Pomerado Newspaper Group, which has a combined circulation of 42,000, publishes the Poway News Chieftain, Corridor News and the Rancho Bernardo News Journal.

According to Editor & Publisher, the number of weekly newspapers, which generally means those published less than four times a week, has grown nationally from 6,580 to 6,704, an increase of 124 newspapers, while the number of daily papers has decreased from 1,520 to 1,456, or 64 papers, in the last seven years.

"Daily newspaper circulation is declining, losing readers to the Internet and TV," said Kydd, who maintains a full-time staff of 24 employees. "Community newspapers have been growing nationwide and in San Diego. They are getting local community news (from us) that they can't get anywhere else. The dailies are getting so big that they can't focus on neighborhood news."

Writing about who is starring in the local school play and what is happening at the local PTA meeting is what has sustained community newspapers throughout the years.

As daily papers were merging, such as the 1995 union of the North County Blade-Citizen of Oceanside and the Escondido-based Times Advocate into what is now the North County Times, community newspapers have seen growth because of their ability to target that niche market.

"They (larger papers) are competing in a similar manner, whether regional or national," said Julie Mannis Hoisington, the publisher of the San Diego Community Newspaper Group, which publishes six newspapers, such as the Beach & Bay Press, La Jolla Village News and the Peninsula Beacon. "Our focus, our claim to fame is community news. No one else competes with us (in that arena)."

Brian Steffens, the executive director of the Missouri-based National Newspaper Association, an industry trade group representing more than 2,500 newspapers across the country, said community newspapers have survived because they are able to connect with the community in a way that is not economically feasible for large daily publications.

"The Union-Tribune is a local paper but it covers a huge area," he said. "There is not enough pages, there is not enough reporters for them to cover the local news. When you get down to the school board level, it's very tough for the paper to do that even if it wants to because of the economics.

"There is a huge number of people that like to read about themselves, about their family and friends. Things that big daily papers have trouble doing."

Like the Coast News, the San Diego Community Newspaper Group, which has a full-time staff of 30, is branching out.

The Pacific Beach-based newspaper group recently launched two quarterly magazines, La Jolla Today and Downtown Magazine.

The two magazines premiered in early May and April, respectively.

The magazines will allow the papers' advertisers to target a broader spectrum of their demographics, Hoisington said.

"We wanted to be able to reach the full market," she said. "Now we will hit 90 percent of the area."

Like their larger counterparts, community newspapers are driven by advertising, Hoisington said.

"Advertising does have to work in order for us to keep our doors open," she said. "Advertising has to work. That's the only way we pay our bills."

The San Diego Community Newspaper Group, which was established in 1989, has a combined circulation of 75,000 for all six newspapers and charges $820 for a half-page advertisement in one of its publications. For two publications, the price jumps to $1,312.

Community newspapers have typically been free, either delivered to homes or picked up at local businesses, but publishers of community newspapers are quick to rebut the idea that a free publication has no value.

"We have a very experienced editorial staff. We pay very well. We don't use neophytes," said Lorine Wright, the editor of the San Diego Ranch Coast Newspaper Group, which publishes the Carmel Valley News, the Del Mar Village Voice and the Rancho Santa Fe Review. "We can't get away with shoddy work. It goes back to quality. Almost 100 percent of the people get our papers. Out of the people who get it, 90 percent actually read it. Daily publications have a certain amount of credibility. But just because it's a community paper or a giveaway doesn't mean it is not credible."

The Rancho Santa Fe-based newspaper group, which was established more than 20 years ago, has a combined circulation of 26,000 for the three publications, she said.