Column: We need you, and you need us

Are you there, reader? It's me, your local newspaper reporter.

If you're holding this column with ink-stained fingers, you're in the minority. Earlier this week, the Audit Bureau of Circulations (I've never heard of them either) released a report that said the average weekday circulation of 379 dailies dropped 10.6 percent from April to September. That's on top of the decrease newspapers have been seeing in circulation for a while now. Those who study this sort of thing blame news that is available 24/7 on television and online and shrinking newspaper sizes as ad revenues dip because of the economy.

It doesn't help that we as an industry give away our product for free to anyone with a computer and an Internet connection. Some newspapers, like the Wall Street Journal, offer expanded coverage online for a nominal fee (about $100 a year), but for the most part, newspapers encourage you to hold on to your quarters and visit us online. We even undertake special projects like photo galleries, videos and blogs to drive up Web traffic.

We reporters get enough phone calls, e-mails and reader comments to know that you're out there. And since those same people who study these things tell us those comments represent only a fraction of our readers, we're pretty sure our stories are reaching a large audience.

Before I was hired here in June, the Miner was operating with just two news reporters on a staff that used to employ five. Does that affect coverage? Absolutely. And we continue to take the heat from readers who can't see how we intend to attract new subscribers or even keep the ones we have when we continue to shrink our news hole, since advertising dictates how big papers are each day.

Trust me, it frustrates us, too.

It may surprise you to know that we reporters don't make much money (unless you're Katie Couric or Wolf Blitzer). I made more working at the college bookstore than I do as a reporter. We do it because newspapers, which have taken a credibility hit in recent years, still represent the biggest watchdog on local government and a valuable resource for small towns such as Kingman.

Everyone loves to criticize the newspaper, but when it comes down to it, we are the last refuge for some people. Despite those who think we are pushing an agenda (I absolutely abhor politics), newspapers provide a platform for people. Your elected officials would much rather operate without someone watching them. Remember, these are the same people who recently eliminated the Call to the Public because "we need to expedite these meetings."

Like I said, it frustrates us that we are short-staffed, overworked and unable to spend more time investigating certain issues. I'm not complaining; I'm all too happy to just have a job. But I have an ongoing list of issues that warrant further investigation that I just don't have time to get to as quickly as I would like. A few additional hands in the newsroom wouldn't hurt, although I don't know many people willing to work for free. The easy answer is to charge readers a fee to access our Web site. But with the cost of living increasing across the board and unemployment at a record high, how do we ask the guy with no disposable income to start paying for something he's always gotten for free?

I do know that when small towns like Kingman lose their local newspaper, they lose a lot more than classified listings and advertising circulars. They lose their connection with their neighbors and a watchful eye on otherwise unchecked government officials. They lose the very things that make a small town a place you want to live.

I would like to hear from readers about this. Would you pay to access our Web site? What's a reasonable fee? And when you write (either by mail to our office here at 3015 Stockton Hill Road or by e-mail to etaylor@kdminer.com), include a news tip for me. Tell me about a story you think we missed or a neighbor you think has an interesting story to tell.

When small towns lose their newspapers, they lose the very essence of what small towns champion. And hopefully, we won't have to say we told you so while standing in line behind you at the unemployment office.