If someone asked me to describe the Kentucky newspaper industry in one word, the best and perhaps only word I could come up with would be “resilient.” From the standpoint of withstanding all the pressures of the industry today. Over the years, our newspapers have withstood the economy, the pressures of other communications means, fires, tornadoes, ice storms, blizzards. You name it and Kentucky newspapers keep coming, strong.
The last few years, when I’ve heard others talk about the fewer number of newspapers today, I’ve meant to check some stats to see just how many newspapers Kentucky has lost over the years. The answer is: not many.
Earlier this week, I sent to our members a story shared by Adam Yeomans, our close friend with the Associated Press. It was part of Sunshine Week but it concerned the 1,400 cities that have lost a local newspaper over the last 15 years. When I saw that, I made time to do some Kentucky research.
Oh we’ve lost some newspapers, every state has. Some have lost a lot, some very few. I think Kentucky belongs in the latter.
I pulled at random so old directories. This being the 150th anniversary of the Kentucky Press Association we had some old directories handy. John Nelson had used some of them in his research for “Still, We Speak.”
The first one I pulled out was from 1945. Seventy-four years ago. I couldn’t decide how I wanted to follow up on that one but I did try to find at least one from every decade since the 1980s.
That should give a pretty representative state of the newspaper industry in Kentucky. It’s not perfect research but hopefully I gleaned enough numbers that you can see Kentucky newspapers have stayed the course.
First, until 1984, KPA listed every newspaper published in the state in its directory. Started that year, we have not listed a non-member newspaper. As the Board said in 1984 in making that directive, why recognize a newspaper if they aren’t interested in paying dues. So chances are when you see the 1945 total below, many of those newspapers were not members of KPA. I do know that in 1983, when I began with KPA, we had 30 non-member newspapers. Today, a total of one newspaper eligible is not a member of KPA.
In 1945, there were 178 newspapers in the state, 149 of them were weeklies. Even today, we define weeklies as published up to three times per week. Four or more issues a week constitutes it being a daily newspaper.
The next one I picked was 1988. That was kind of on purpose because it’s the first year we had “Associate Member Newspapers.” Those are publications, regardless of frequency, that meet the definition of newspaper other than having a then Second Class Mailing Permit. Today it’s known as a Periodicals Class Mailing Permit. When I tell other state press associations about our Associate Member Newspaper division, one of the first states to have such a membership classification, I say, “They look, feel, smell and taste like a newspaper.” Those AMN members cover city councils, fiscal courts, school boards, weddings, obits, sports. It’s just that you don’t have to pay to receive them, either by subscription or over the counter.
So in 1988, the first year of Associate Member Newspapers, we had 144 total newspapers — 115 were weeklies, 25 were dailies, 4 were Associate Member Newspapers.
In 1995, we had 115 weekly newspapers, 24 dailies and five AMNs.
Ten years later, in 2005, you can see the effect of the Associate Member Newspapers. We still had 24 dailies, we had 124 weeklies and we had 19 AMNs. That’s 167 total, just 13 fewer newspapers than we had 60 years prior.
In this year’s directory, we have 159 total newspapers — 119 weeklies, 22, dailies and 18 Associate Member Newspaper. I could even stretch the numbers and tell you we have 174 newspapers, four fewer than 1945. FOUR fewer than 74 years ago. But that’s not comparing apples to apples. We list the 12 college/university student publications in the directory because they are members of the Kentucky Intercollegiate Press Association, a division of KPA that we’ve had for three years. And just a few years ago, we established an online newspaper division. We have three listed in the directory though now there’s actually four. If you added together all the dues paying “publications” that are members of KPA this year, you’d have 174 total.
That’s why I say Kentucky newspapers are resilient, withstanding the test of time, the economy, the challenges of being in competitive markets, the downtown in advertising and in circulation.
So the next time you hear someone say there’s a big decline in the number of newspapers, or newspapers are falling by the wayside, remember this: In Kentucky, the numbers are all that different today than they were 74 years ago.
Stand proud, all of you. I know it’s a struggle, I know it’s frustrating, I know it’s often discouraging. I just hope you keep on keeping on.
A Look Back at 1945
The 29 dailies are kind of still around today, except perhaps for three listed under Covington. The directory shows those three as the Kentucky Post, Kentucky Enquirer and the Times Star. Today, there’s just the Kentucky Enquirer, the sister publication of the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Of course, back then you had the Lexington Herald and Lexington Leader; the Louisville Courier-Journal and the Louisville Times. Henderson had two dailies — the Gleaner and the Journal. Maysville had two — the Independent and the Public Ledger. Today it’s just the Maysville Ledger Independent. Owensboro had the Messenger and the Inquirer. Hazard had the Times and the Herald. And twenty-two of the 29 were evening publications. And typically back then, when a town had two papers, one was known as the Democratic newspaper, one was a Republican newspaper.
So with the Herald and the Leader, the Courier-Journal and the Times, the Gleaner and the Journal, the Messenger and the Inquirer, the Independent and the Public Ledger, the Herald and the Times, you can say today’s publications are still around, but just merged. And of course Hazard is no longer a daily.
The 1945 directory included some unusual information about the newspapers. There was something called the “Casting Box.” It also listed whether each newspaper accepted liquor advertising or not. The number of columns varied from 4 to 8. And as for advertising rates, well maybe we ought to have a Throwback Thursday or Throwback Tuesday edition for each KPA member newspaper one time in this our 150th anniversary. The highest (NOTE, HIGHEST) advertising rate for the weeklies was 60 cents an inch. Most are in the 35 to 42 cents per inch range with a few scattered at 50 and some at 60 cents per inch. And all of them had a published Classified Rate of $.02. I assume that’s 2 cents per line for classifieds.