This week's issue of The Onion, a parody newspaper with fake but humorous news, proclaimed, "Economically Healthy 'Daily Planet' Now Most Unrealistic Part Of Superman Universe." One character in the story says, "I can play along with Superman using a steel girder to swat someone into outer space, but I just can't get past the idea that The Daily Planet still occupies one of the largest skyscrapers in all of Metropolis and is totally impervious to newsroom layoffs or dwindling home subscriptions."

In recent months and years, Mississippi has seen its share of newspaper restructuring. The Pascagoula Mississippi Press, along with its sister papers in neighboring states - the Mobile Press Register and the New Orleans Times Picayune - switched from daily publication to three times a week. The Jackson Clarion Ledger has been aggressive with early retirement buyouts. Occasionally a local newspaper in the state will fold or be purchased by a competitor.

But the market for local news continues. When the daily Laurel Leader Call closed its doors, newspaper publisher Wyatt Emmerich entered the market with the new three-day-a-week Laurel Chronicle; meanwhile the weekly newspaper Jones County Review stepped up to publish three days a week as the new Leader Call. When the Newton County Record folded, Jack Tannehill at the Union Appeal expanded to form the Newton County Appeal. When Gannett changed focus on The Clinton News, an entrepreneur launched The Clinton Courier.

Newspapers are businesses. Many newspapers are the oldest business in their county and the Woodville Republican is the oldest business in the state. The struggling economy affects them like all businesses. But when a restaurant or department store closes, we're not so quick to proclaim an end to their industry. This past weekend I reflected on the state of newspapers in Mississippi while attending the Mississippi Press Association (MPA) Convention which met along with associations from Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia and Florida at the Southeastern Press Convention.

Jim Prince, the incoming president of the MPA, reported that 1.5 million Mississippians - or half the population of the state - read a newspaper every week. Over 100 newspapers in the state deliver unique stories unavailable elsewhere.

Back to The Onion story, another character says, "I can totally buy into an epic battle in which Superman claps his hands and creates a sonic boom that sends Darkseid flying through 50 buildings. But as soon as people start lining up at newsstands to read about it in The Daily Planet, I think, 'Doesn't anyone have a computer at work? Are there no smartphones?' Before I know it, I'm suddenly aware I'm reading a fictional comic book, and the spell's totally broken."

Technology does provide a challenge to newspapers, but also an opportunity. Newspapers remain the major content generators for online news. Tim Kalich, publisher of the Greenwood Commonwealth, shared that a recent story involving an alleged murder-for-hire conspiracy involving a local doctor and prominent attorney increased traffic ten-fold to his paper's web site and doubled the purchase of stories online month to month. Kalich won his third J. Oliver Emmerich Editorial Excellence Award at the convention.

Newspapers must monetize their online service either by generating revenue or as a value to their print subscribers. Access to the Clarion Ledger's online content will soon be for subscribers only. Other newspapers require a separate digital subscription from the paper subscription, or provide a certain amount of free views of articles a month, and then charge beyond that.

News isn't free. At the convention, Patrick Dorsey, publisher of the Tallahassee Democrat, stressed his newspaper pays reporters to gather information and write a story; pays fact-checkers, editors, layout staff, graphic designers, photographers; prints a publication and delivers it to a driveway for a cost of less than seventy cents to the subscriber a day. Starbucks won't deliver a cup of coffee every morning for the same price.

Whether people learn of Superman's escapades at the news stand or on their smart phone, the paper is still paying Lois Lane to write the copy. And Mississippi has its share of Lois Lane reporters, including Emily Lane of the Natchez Democrat (no relation to Lois) who placed first in six reporting writing categories in the MPA's Better Newspaper Contest, something no other reporter has achieved. Anita Lee of the Sun Herald won the Bill Minor Award for General News Reporting; Emily LeCoz of the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal won the Bill Minor Prize for Investigative Reporting.

David Hampton from the Clarion Ledger and Patsy Speights from the Prentiss Headlight, both recently retired after more than twenty-five years each in the business, were inducted into the MPA Hall of Fame.

The newspaper industry may look different, but in another twenty-five years, I suspect the MPA will be still be honoring reporters and editors, and The Daily Planet will still provide daily Superman updates.



Brian Perry is a partner in a public affairs firm. Reach him at reasonablyright@brianperry.ms.