GPS 2020: Saving Community Newspapers with Mr. Sammy Lopez

By The Garrity Group


We discussed the #GPS2020 Closer Look: Newspapers with Mr. Sammy Lopez, Executive Director of the New Mexico Press Association. In 2011 that newspaper ranked as the second most accessed information source in New Mexico. Fast forward to 2020, it dropped to fourth out of six sources, behind internet news sites and radio.

Full Transcript

Tom Garrity, The Garrity Group [00:00:21] A free press is foundational to our government and society. But the use of newspaper as an information source appears to be waning. Hello, this is Tom Garrity. Today, as we dig into the Twenty Twenty Garrity Perceptions survey, we have the opportunity to speak with Sammy López, a longtime publisher and current executive director of the New Mexico Press Association. Mr. Lopez, thank you very much for taking time today to speak with me.

Sammy Lopez NM Newspaper Assn [00:00:47] Thank you, Tom. Appreciate you the invitation.

Tom Garrity, The Garrity Group [00:00:51] So we’ve before we rolled the camera, had a chance to learn a little bit about your background is quite buried. You have worked basically in every region of the state, both as a reporter, a photojournalist, a publisher, and even your first job was as running the paper route. And Blent. Tell me a little bit more about your background. 

Sammy Lopez NM Newspaper Assn [00:01:14] Well, it’s pretty, pretty diverse. I have enjoyed being able to be part of many communities in New Mexico, helping those communities grow, helping merchants with their businesses through advertising and holding government entities. Or or who meetings public records. Many, many things journalism’s good journalists do. And I’m very proud of the fact that we publications I’ve been in New Mexico Press Association’s General Excellence Award. I was also named a member of the Hall of Fame for the New Mexico Press Association years ago. So now I’ve enjoyed it. A great career as a newspaper executive in New Mexico.

Tom Garrity, The Garrity Group [00:02:05] Well, thank you for all you’ve done to help make New Mexico what it is today. I think that type of services is something to be respected. So thank you. Based on the information of our 20/20 survey, 48 percent of residents say that they access print or online news as a news source. In 2011, that number was 64 percent. What happened to cause that kind of shift?

Sammy Lopez NM Newspaper Assn [00:02:31] I think what we’re seeing is, is that most of the reporting in New Mexico is coming from community newspapers. If you look at, let’s say, truth or consequences, New Mexico and the Sierra County Sentinel, you know, they’re the only local newspaper in. 

Sammy Lopez NM Newspaper Assn [00:02:53] They’re the only reporters there on the street. Yes, people can access that information with a gun, with a Google search or a Yahoo search, you can access that. So, so many times I think consumers are saying, yeah, I get my news online. But in fact, that news is being produced by their local newspaper. And that happens in many, many communities, especially especially smaller communities that maybe don’t have a radio station reporter, don’t have television reporters.

Sammy Lopez NM Newspaper Assn [00:03:25] You know, if you look at Silver City, there’s again, there’s a newspaper, two newspapers there that have reporters on the street that are covering city hall and covering the police reports every day. The same things happening in towns. Same things happening in Farmington or Artesia, Fort Sumter, all of these little communities. It’s the local newspapers that are producing the content and local news. And so but many cases that is available online through a through a Google search. 

Tom Garrity, The Garrity Group [00:04:03] So basically, the reporters and the media sources aren’t necessarily getting their credit, is what you’re saying, for all of the grassroots reporting, because where else is this information coming from? But the local newspapers.

Sammy Lopez NM Newspaper Assn [00:04:15] Correct. Correct. And sometimes we have instances now where police departments may have a Facebook page that they’re putting information upon or cities and counties may have Facebook postings that that they’re putting up. But really, the core reporting is coming from those local newspaper reporters that are out on the street day in and day out, you know, covering city hall, covering the cops beat, just just doing what we’ve done for hundreds of years.

Tom Garrity, The Garrity Group [00:04:51] So COVID-19 hits. Every industry hits every every group. How have you seen newspapers impacted as a result of COVID-19 in this current age that we’re in? 

Sammy Lopez NM Newspaper Assn [00:05:06] They believe they’ve been hit pretty hard. You know, the newspapers rely on local retail advertising that their core revenue source and they have classifieds and legal ads in the paper. But really, what what makes a newspaper strong is the number of local retail ads that it sells. And. We’ve shut down the retail stores in New Mexico. This this emergency has caused the governor to insist that local retail stores shut down. And so that’s that’s newspaper’s core group of businesses that that supply. A newspaper with revenue to hire reporters and print newspapers and get those papers on the street. So it had a devastating effect. This like it has on the mom and pop businesses in these communities. 

Tom Garrity, The Garrity Group [00:06:03] And so talk a little bit about that. Yeah, I’d say with the public health orders, you know, causing small businesses and large businesses to pivot or to shut down or time, that exacerbated an issue or based by world or community newspapers. What were some of the challenges that community newspapers had prior to COVID-19? That just seemed to be exacerbated by this.

Sammy Lopez NM Newspaper Assn [00:06:27] Well, we’ve been we’ve been seeing small town America retailing going away for a number of years now. The the many, many merchants have chosen different vehicles for to spend their ad dollars that have added competition to the local newspaper.

Sammy Lopez NM Newspaper Assn [00:06:47] So you have Facebook advertising, you have Google AdWords, you have a whole variety or menu, new menu available to local retailers to spread their word. And they’re using it and you can’t blame them. But many times there’s no new dollars. So they’re they’re stretching their dollars to try to include these new vehicles. Some of them have stopped using newspapers. Some of them have decreased the amount. They use newspapers. And so, you know, it’s a new mix. And and I think everybody is trying to continue to figure out what’s best for their for their retail or or operation. What’s the best mix for them to use?

Tom Garrity, The Garrity Group [00:07:36] You know, I one of the reasons that we’re talking today is because, you know, I sent you the information about the 2020 perception survey. And my intent all along was to provide research, insights for New Mexico businesses who might not have access to, you know, only rather it would only have access to national survey information, which really is an applicable to New Mexico in some ways. But, you know, the 20 20 G.P.S. crosstab data shows that a demographic base of support includes 53 percent of residents that earn less than twenty thousand dollars annually and fifty one percent of those earning in excess of eighty thousand dollars. They say they access newspapers on a regular basis. Does this align with what your community newspapers show is their base of support?

Sammy Lopez NM Newspaper Assn [00:08:28] Well, I think it depends on the size of the community. I think those those numbers for for a larger markets seem to be in line. Looks like the revenue number looks the higher revenue, the eighty thousand dollars plus. Looks to me to be a little bit low. But for these rural communities and small towns, I think it’s much, much higher than that. But if you average those numbers together, you know, if you have fifteen hundred homes in Fort Sumter, how’s that going to average against the number of homes you might have in Santa Fe or in Albuquerque? You know, the average is going to go down. But newspapers and small hometown communities are still very, very strong there. They read by lots of folks. That becomes a weekly event when that paper comes out. People go and buy that paper. That’s evident. Communities like Espanola and Taos. I mean, you see those newsboys still on the street corner selling newspapers. And it affects their their lives. The community revolves around their local newspapers. Many markets.

Tom Garrity, The Garrity Group [00:09:43] It really does. And it’s a topic of discussion on academies, New Mexico in Focus where I have a chance to be a guest commentator from time to time. In fact, in a conversation with senior producer Matt Grub’s posed an interesting question to me. Totally fumbled the response. So I’m going to put it into your court. How can newspapers be saved or restored?

Sammy Lopez NM Newspaper Assn [00:10:07] Well, that’s that’s a that’s if I had the answer to that. I’d be very wealthy because there are lots of lots of people a lot smarter than me that are trying to figure that out. And there’s a lot lot of business models that are emerging is in Artesia, New Mexico. They actually produce a PDAF version of their paper six days a week. The only print. One day a week. It’s only available in print. One day a week. But it’s available online. That’s part of your subscription. You get Sunday through Thursday or Sunday through Friday online. But there’s no print version on most of those days except for one week. And so people are people are experimenting with different models and trying to trying to come up with what is the best as we move forward in the future of newspapers.

Tom Garrity, The Garrity Group [00:11:09] Well, and it’s really kind of it’s it’s a head scratcher because I subscribe to it for newspapers. And each of their each have their own way of rewarding subscribers to do a great job. The other two, I feel like I’m getting penalized at times for being a subscriber with all of the pop up Erza and emails. Where is that happy medium for success?

Sammy Lopez NM Newspaper Assn [00:11:33] You know, you want to remind your subscriber that there’s breaking news happening. It’s a very important tool. The problem is, is that you have what I would I kind of consider three different buckets of newspaper readers. Of the casual reader who who, yeah, reads reads the paper online, who is satisfied with what they get. They might not subscribe, but they are an avid reader and they’ll go out and look at their papers and and see see what they can see, what they read. You have you have a traditional reader who subscribes to the paper much like yourself or maybe multiple papers who reads it, wants to know what’s going on. And then you have the real newshound, the guy that wants it online, wants it in print, wants it all the time. And so it’s for a newspaper to serve those three buckets consistently. When you’ve got to serve that newshound, he’s your best customer. I mean, he or she is gonna who’s gonna be on top of that paper as soon as it’s published? Many times getting up in the middle of night after they know the news cycle. They know that we’re putting the paper to bed at eleven o’clock and they’re reading our Web sites at eleven thirty, or they’re getting up at 4:00 in the morning and reading our newspaper at four o’clock in the morning.

Tom Garrity, The Garrity Group [00:13:03] Mr. Lopez, you are describing me to a T.. What is it? I feel like I don’t have a life, but I love movies. Go ahead. I’m sorry.

Sammy Lopez NM Newspaper Assn [00:13:10] Well many, many people like you and and, you know, they’re very concerned about about the about the position that newspapers are in today because they truly love to read their newspaper. And we provide a we provide a lot of news and information from entertainment to stuff that’s critical for your life. You know what’s going on at City Hall, how you might be affected with zoning comics. I mean, it’s just a very fulfilling experience and it continues to be. So how do we survive? And that’s there’s there’s still there’s still lots of work to be done in that in that arena.

Tom Garrity, The Garrity Group [00:13:55] I really appreciate you breaking down three audiences with casual, traditional and newshound makes a lot of sense to me. In fact, one of the things that the Garity Group is going to be doing to help newspapers and its publishers will be using our pace approach, which really takes a look at the Garrity perception survey from 2011 through to 2020. And it uses really addresses perception in such a way as to identify the supportive audiences so we can create a message to engage audiences with relevant messages. So we’re really looking forward to partnering up with New Mexico Newspaper Association to really help maybe shed some additional light, which, who knows, could create a new way or a new thought or a new approach to really saving newspapers. Any additional insights about the industry that you’d like to share, Mr. Lopez?

Sammy Lopez NM Newspaper Assn [00:14:46] Well, I think, you know, we’re going through a lot of changes.

Sammy Lopez NM Newspaper Assn [00:14:49] But but, you know, newspapers tend to continue to go down the path of of truth and and really examining sources and making sure that when we publish something, it’s correct. And if it’s not correct, we’ll tell you we we make mistakes. You know, I run corrections and in papers I’ve published and we don’t we don’t like to, but we want to get it right. And I think newspapers really, really strive on doing and more than any other.

Sammy Lopez NM Newspaper Assn [00:15:27] It’s reporting the news. Newspapers tend to really pay attention to the facts. And we don’t get single source stories. We try to get multiple source source stories. We look at who our news sources are. Are they credible? Is is is this really. Are we really going down the right path to get truth in this story? And we’ll continue to do so and as we move forward. 

Tom Garrity, The Garrity Group [00:15:55] Mr. Sammy López, a journalist, a photojournalist, publisher and executive director of the New Mexico Newspaper Association. Thank you for your time today. 

Sammy Lopez NM Newspaper Assn [00:16:06] Thank you, Tom. Appreciate it.

Tom Garrity, The Garrity Group [00:16:08] For more insights about the Garrity Perception Survey, visit Thanks for watching.

Published July 1, 2020


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