The Alamance News has shown dramatic increases in circulation over the past year, while other area newspapers have had even more dramatic declines.
The Alamance News is now, by far, the largest local media outlet, with paid circulation of 3,777, based on the annual Statement of Ownership, Management, and Circulation (Form 3526) filed with the U.S. Postal Service.
Postal regulations require all newspapers that use the U.S. mail to send any of their newspapers through the mail to file an annual statement of circulation each October 1, outlining both the mail and non-mail circulation of their newspapers.
Reports filed by three county publications show that The Alamance News paid circulation increased by about 20 percent over the past year, continuing an upward trajectory over the past five years – up 33 percent over the past five years.
Meanwhile, the formerly daily newspaper in Burlington, the Times-News, has shown an even more dramatic decline in circulation, losing over 40 percent of its circulation over the past 12 months, and about 80 percent over the past five years. The newspaper reported only 1,965 paid subscribers, compared to The Alamance News’ figure of 3,777. Total distribution was 2,224 compared to The Alamance News’ 3,802.
Similarly, The Mebane Enterprise now lists only 366 paid subscribers, down 20 percent from 457 last year – and down almost 75 percent from 1,398 five years ago.
For many years, the Times-News had been the dominant newspaper in the county, at least in terms of number of days of publication and in overall circulation. However, several changes in ownership and changes in direction of its coverage and focus appear to have contributed to the drastically lower numbers reflected in this year’s report.
For instance, as recently as two years ago, the Burlington newspaper published six days a week (which had already been trimmed from the historic number of seven days a week).
But shortly after a Kentucky-based media company, Paxton Media Group, bought the paper (and five other N.C. dailies) from the Gannett Co., Inc. on December 1, 2022, the number of days of publication was slashed to just three (Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday).
Eliminated in the process was carrier delivery of the newspaper, which subsequently began delivering to subscribers by U.S. Mail.
Meanwhile, the formerly daily newspaper has eliminated most local news coverage, rarely covering local boards and councils. In fact, there appears to be only one reporter in their employ.
Also shortly after the Paxton purchase, the newspaper moved out of its traditional offices along South Main Street in downtown Burlington; that building appears to be vacant now and is listed for lease. The Alamance News has been unable to ascertain whether that paper has any local office or “storefront” where customers may go.
Another indication of the relative strengths of the three papers is the difference in their “average annual” circulation versus the circulation on a specific date of publication closest to the required October 1 filing date. Typically, growing newspapers have higher most recent circulation than their annual averages, while those that are in decline show the opposite: lower recent numbers than the annual average.
The Alamance News’ most recent numbers are higher than the annual averages, while both the Times-News and The Mebane Enterprise are lower.
All three newspapers have battled national trends that have shown a steep decline in newspaper readership over the past several decades.
According to various national newspaper and media research organizations, about 20 years ago (in 2004), there were roughly 9,000 papers still publishing across the U.S. Since then, about one-fourth (2,100) have closed or merged, leaving about 6,730 surviving papers, including 1,260 dailies (defined as those publishing four or more times a week) and 5,470 nondailies or weeklies.
“I truly regret to see the struggles and drastic declines of our local competitors,” said Alamance News publisher Tom Boney, Jr. “I could not have foreseen the breadth and extent of this change in the readership demographics in Alamance County.”
“Newspapers across the country have often adopted a corporate financial approach which typically reduces or sometimes eliminates altogether a focus on local news. Understandably, that’s because local news is the most expensive to produce; it requires real reporters going to meetings and events and otherwise covering their ‘beats.’
“They’ve taken this approach despite that fact that almost every readership survey (state, regional, and national) has shown that local news is the Number One category sought by readers and the public at large.
“At the same time, we are grateful for the community’s recognition, acceptance, and support for the all-local news focus that we provide each week. Our historic formula of concentrating on local news has proven to be a winning strategy in the long term. In the past three years, we’ve also added a very successful website, alamancenews.com, which provides breaking news and previews of stories that will be in Thursday’s print edition.”
“So in addition to being the largest print media outlet in the county, we have one of the largest and most popular online sites, with both a large website following, as well as those who see summaries of our stories on Alamance News Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts.
“We’re also proud of the three experienced, talented, insightful reporters whose skills and expertise are regularly recognized in state and national writing and reporting contests.” [See separate news stories in this edition.]