MPA Director Bruce gives updates on Mississippi newspaper business

Mississippi Press Association Executive Director Layne Bruce speaks at the Starkville Rotary Club meeting Monday. (Photo by Charlie Benton, SDN)
Daily Times Leader

The Starkville Rotary Club heard a report on the state of Mississippi’s newspaper industry from the head of the state’s press association Monday.

Mississippi Press Association Executive Director Layne Bruce, son of longtime Daily Times Leader editor Spanky Bruce, addressed the club, discussing newspapers and journalism in Mississippi. His talk centered on the continued relevance of local newspapers in the life of Mississippians, with 81 of 82 counties in Mississippi currently served by some form of local paper. Issaquena County is the sole county without a paper, but is served by a paper from a neighboring county. He also said 75% of Mississippians were reached by a print newspaper or its online product within the past 24 hours, ranking newspapers as the number one source of news in most Mississippi communities above TV, radio and Facebook.

“Eight in 10 households were reached by the newspaper or affiliated digital products in the last week,” Bruce said.

Bruce said the researcher who conducted the study was so impressed by Mississippi’s numbers that he wanted to send out a national press release.

“Aside from local news, our member papers are the primary source of shopping information and sales information for consumers,” Bruce said. “Nearly half of all Mississippi adults say they consult a newspaper before making major purchases.”
He also said newspapers were at 41% on a list of consumer preferences for searching for prices of products, above TV, radio and general internet search. A British study also showed that newspapers triple the effectiveness of advertising campaigns.
He discussed the state of newspapers in Mississippi and the U.S. as a whole. He used the New York Times as an example, citing reporting by The Wall Street Journal.

“You hear a lot about the failing New York Times, that it’s going the way of the buggy whip,” Bruce said. “Truth be told, the Times has now about 4.5 million paying customers as of March 31. That’s 3.58 million digital subscribers, so just under a million of those are subscribing to the traditional print newspaper.”

He said the net income for the Times for that period was $30.2 million.

“They’re seeing very healthy returns on their investment in digital,” Bruce said.

He said The Times had a goal of 10 million digital subscribers.

However, he said the Times’ model was not scalable for most community newspapers.

“As newspapers wean themselves from tradition newspaper advertising, subscribers are going to need to be the news who take up more of the cost to produce local journalism, so that brings us to content.”

Bruce said content was the first priority for papers today.

“If they don’t produce something that you want to read, then there’s nothing,” Bruce said. “This means that newspapers have to get smaller, but they have to get smaller in a smart way.

"Media is more segmented than ever before,” Bruce added. "The competition for your dollars is unbelievable. I was making a list of things I subscribe to. I subscribe to the Washington Post. I subscribe to the New York Times. I subscribe to Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, you name it. It adds up in a hurry, so it’s going to be easy for consumers to bypass services that they don’t feel they’re getting their return on. That’s why content absolutely has to be key."

He also discussed some of the association’s initiatives with college and high school papers. Through the Mississippi Press Association's Education Foundation, the association funds scholarships and internships for select in-state students studying communication or journalism. It also offers select microgrants to help revive high school journalism programs and newspapers.

The Mississippi Press Association includes 110 member papers, including the Starkville Daily News and Daily Times Leader, plus digital outlets and college media in the state. It was founded in 1866, and is the sixth-oldest press association in the nation. The association is headquartered in Jackson. Bruce has led the association since 2007, and has worked in several capacities in the newspaper business, including stints with the Starkville Daily News and Daily Times Leader.

He is a West Point native and Mississippi State University alumnus.

Editor's Note: This story was edited by SDN & DTL Executive Editor Ryan Phillips, who serves on the Board of Directors for the Mississippi Press Association's Education Foundation.