Columbia’s Perspective on the
Dr. Clyde Bentley
Strategic Communications Research 1
Table of Contents:
Executive Summary p. 2
Background p. 3
Methodology p. 5
Findings p. 6
Limitations p. 10
Conclusions and Recommendations p. 11
Appendix p. 13
In an effort to increase their readership within the Columbia community, the
Columbia Missourian administration approached Dr. Clyde Bentley, a journalism
professor at MU, with a research proposal. The Missourian wished to utilize the efforts
of students in Dr. Bentley’s Strategic Communication Research class by collaborating to
conduct a study concerning the newspaper’s readership decline. The first step was the
observation of a focus group composed of Columbian citizens in hopes of learning more
about their thoughts on community newspapers in general, and the Missourian in
particular. In attempt to broaden understanding of public opinion concerning the
Missourian, personal interviews were conducted. Each student conducted two
interviews, one with an individual between the ages of 18 and 25, and the second with an
individual over the age of 35. Interviewing readers in separate age groups allowed the
students an opportunity for form two different audience perspectives and discover how
they may be related. In this particular case a 21-year-old female and a 41-year-old male
were selected. Participants were questioned about their individual opinions of the
newspaper relating to type of media most frequently accessed, branding, readership,
advertising, and competition. Both interviews lasted approximately 35 minutes and each
participant was asked the same questions to ensure valid comparison. Both interviews
were limited by time, distraction, regulation, number, and lack of diversity. Based upon
the participants responses it was concluded that the younger generation is looking for a
news medium that is readily available. Therefore, it would be beneficial for the
Missourian to be distributed free of charge in accessible locations. Both age groups
agreed that the Missourian is an integral part of MU and Columbia, but has gained the
stigma of being non-community oriented. It is important for the paper to decipher and
publish only those events pertinent to the community as a whole. The older generation
lacks awareness of the Missourian’s secondary publications, Vox and Adelante. If the
Missourian provided more advertisement for these periodicals audience acceptance
would grow, possibly leading to an increase of overall readership. Finally, to lock the
younger generation’s readership the Missourian must use its “youthful” stereotype to its
advantage by updating to a fresher, sharper image. Obviously, the small number of
participants has limited the conclusions available. Increased demographic diversification
would also be beneficial to the study. Nevertheless, the information gained from these
interviews is valuable and provides a solid foundation for future research.
Often, the primary purpose of community newspapers is to open interpersonal
channels of communication in a community. They are important in acknowledging
readers’ ties to the community as a geographic place, to local institutions, and the
readers’ effort to connect socially with others. Founded on September 14, 1908 by
Walter Williams, the Columbia Missourian still operates under the same value system
with which it was established. That is, the paper’s journalists are primarily MU
journalism students overseen by faculty editors. This unique aspect sets the Missourian
apart from other newspaper publications in Columbia.
NAA statistics state that the total number of newspaper readership has decreased
from 1998-2001 while the total population has increased. However, according to a
Missourian editor, community newspaper output has tripled form 1965-1998, evidence
that the industry is still growing. Despite this statistic, the Columbia Missourian is
currently experiencing difficulty with a decline in readership.
In an effort to remedy this fact, Missourian administration approached Dr. Clyde
Bentley, a journalism professor at MU, with a research proposal. The Missourian wished
to utilize the efforts of students in Dr. Bentley’s Strategic Communication Research class
by collaborating to conduct a study concerning the newspaper’s decline in readership.
The first step was a formation of a focus group composed of Columbian citizens. The
participants were selected on the basis of their Columbia residency and familiarity with
the Missourian in hopes of learning more about their thoughts on community newspapers
in general, and the Missourian in particular. A condensed summary of the focus group’s
findings is as follows:
Readers do not consider the Missourian their primary news source.
The Columbia Tribune is a major source competition.
The Missourian has developed a generally negative image within the
The Missourian’s student journalists make establishing a long-term
connection with the paper difficult.
The Missourian’s visual appearance should be more appealing.
The examination of these findings led to the decision that further research
investigation was necessary. In an effort to broaden our understanding of public opinion
concerning the Missourian, personal interviews were conducted. Each student in Dr.
Bentley’s class conducted two interviews, one with an individual between the ages of 18
and 25, and the second with an individual over the age of 35. Interviewing readers in
separate age groups allowed the students an opportunity to form two different audience
perspectives and discover how they may be related. Both interviews focused on
gathering details about the individual’s relationship with the Missourian in attempt to
build upon the knowledge previously gathered through the focus group observation.
Two individuals were interviewed concerning their personal opinion of the
Columbia Missourian. The interviews were conducted in person and in a neutral
environment. The interviews occurred at the same location, but at separate times. Both
lasted approximately 35 minutes, and each subject was asked the same questions.
Both interviews took place at Panera Bread Company in downtown Columbia.
Coffee was served and bagels were offered in an effort to produce a more comfortable
environment for the participants. Before the start of each interview, the individual was
informed that the information gathered would be included in a research report accessible
to Dr. Bentley, other students involved in the study, and the Missourian administration.
The e-mail address of Dr. Bentley and myself was provided for remaining questions or
comments. Both subjects were briefed on the main subjects to be covered during the
interview. They were assured that only first names would be printed in the report in
order to ensure anonymity and more open response. During the course of the interview,
if follow-up questions or comments were made, the subject was given the opportunity to
correct or clarify the perceived conclusion. A voice recorder was used to aid in the
documentation of correct commentary. Following the close of the interviews, both
individuals were given the chance to make any additional comments. Notes were
reviewed with the participants to ensure that all recorded responses were clear and
Demographics: 21-year-old female, single, employed, originally from Des
Moines, Iowa, MU journalism student
Location: Panera Bread Company
Duration: February 22, 35 minutes (10:00am – 10:35am)
Amber is an extremely energetic young woman. In addition to being a full-time
college student, she is involved in several extracurricular activities. An active member of
her sorority, she also participates in many campus organizations, and still finds time to
work at Britches clothing store 10 –15 hours per week. Amber considers herself an
involved person by nature, and therefore regards keeping up on current events an
important aspect of her life. Generally, she relies on whatever news medium is most
opportune at the moment. “The Maneater is great way for me to catch up on campus
current events, it’s free and readily available in most of the classroom buildings. I’ll
browse through it while waiting for class to start.” Amber also regularly utilizes online
media as a news source. “As a student, we have constant access to computer labs at our
disposal. CNN.com is simple to check out in between classes or while I’m checking my
e-mail. Between work and school I don’t really have time to devote 30 minutes of my
evening to sitting in front of the TV.”
As a journalism student, Amber thinks that the presence of the Missourian is an
important part of both MU’s journalism school and Columbia in general. She believes
the paper to be a beneficial outlet for future reporters to gain priceless hands-on
experience by meeting real deadlines, covering significant local events, and being
published in an actual public newspaper. However, when asked to describe the
Missourian’s image, Amber’s response was not very positive. “Although I think that the
community supports the idea of a student-written newspaper, most people seem to think
that it’s not as professional in comparison with, say, the Tribune.” She believes this to be
more the result of a stereotype rather than lack of actual talent.
Because Amber is not a subscriber to the paper, she doesn’t go out of her way to
read it. “It’s just not that accessible for me. If they want college students to read their
paper, they should distribute it with other free publications on campus.” Amber says that
if she is honest, she doesn’t really enjoy the Missourian that much in the first place. In
her opinion, the articles are very inconsistent. When asked about the Missourian’s
coverage and content, she felt that the range was wide and unpredictable. “One day it’ll
be full of stories applicable to Columbia’s local community, the next day it’s stuff that
nobody cares about!” Amber also feels that the Missourian uses AP wire stories too
frequently as “space-fillers.”
When the interview came to the topic of advertising, Amber had a lot to say. As
an Advertising major, she offered many suggestions. Amber believes the advertising
content of a newspaper to be crucial. In her classes, she has learned that consumers want
a product that is appealing to the eye. She says that the Missourian has to realize that
although it is necessary to publish companies’ advertisements, it is important for the
paper to realize that it needs to advertise itself. “If they’re worried about readership
decline, change the layout. Add more color, make the newspaper visually appealing.
People will buy what is more attractive.” The same goes for the Missourian’s website.
She believes that it should be updated and made more technologically advanced in order
to keep up with its competitors.
Amber assumes the Missourian’s main competition to be the Tribune, due to its
professional edge. She says that the Tribune has the advantage of “age” as well. “People
are always inclined to believe that age equals experience equals better.” However, she
believes that the Missourian could easily use that aspect to its advantage if the paper
focused on playing up a fresh, up-and-coming, sharper image.
Demographics: 41-year-old male, married with 2 children, employed, originally
from Maryville, Missouri, graduate of MU.
Location: Panera Bread Company
Duration: February 22, 37 minutes (11:30am – 12:07pm)
Michael is a busy man. A husband and father of two, he balances his time
between family and work. An agriculture professor at Truman State University, he also
spends much of his time commuting. His family has chosen to stay close to Columbia
because his youngest daughter was born with Down’s syndrome and receives treatments
at the University hospital. Michael has always had a love for reading and therefore is
inclined to read the newspaper daily.
Because of his busy schedule, Michael usually finds it easier to access his news
through an online medium between his classes or in his office before coming home for
the day. “I have to leave so early in the morning that I can’t read the paper then. During
the day a good portion of my time is spent in the car and when I get home I like to spend
the remainder of the evening with my family instead of reading the paper.”
Both Michael and his wife are graduates from MU and like to stay updated on the
college’s affairs. For this purpose, Michael feels that the Missourian is his best bet. “I’m
ten times as likely to find MU events in the Missourian as opposed to another Columbia
paper.” However, this is not always a good thing. If searching for a complete account of
the day’s news, Michael admits to his preference for the Tribune or a national paper,
stating that he feels the Missourian does not always offer a balanced variety of coverage.
As an MU alumnus, Michael both admires and supports the Missourian’s use of
student journalists. However, sometimes he feels that the paper forgets that it is a
“community” publication, focusing more on events and stories that would be better suited
to the average college student. When asked about the paper’s stereotype as university
propaganda, Michael admitted that he did not read the Missourian when he attended MU
but could understand that particular opinion from the viewpoint of a citizen not
associated with the school.
Unaware of the existence Vox magazine and Adelante, Michael suggested
advertising the two publications in the Missourian. “The public has to know about them
before they can read them. Make a big announcement in the paper.” Though he knows
neither Vox nor Adelante would appeal to him personally, he believes both publications to
be an excellent way to boost readership. “If people read and enjoy those and realize that
they’re published by the Missourian, maybe their perspective on the paper will start to
When questioned about the use of advertisement placement in the newspaper,
Michael mentioned that he hardly ever noticed ads in the Missourian. Though he
attributed this to the fact that if he accessed the Missourian it was usually online, Michael
commented that advertisements should be included on the website as well. “Honestly,
it’s just one more thing to draw people’s attention. Plus, if they find something they like
through an ad in the paper, they’ll be likely to read it again.”
The interviews were limited by time. Both participants agreed to the interview
with the previous stipulation that the process would last no longer than 40-45
minutes. In some cases, this amount of time is not sufficient for the participants
to establish any kind of relationship with the interviewer, which may have
inhibited complete and honest responses.
The interviews were limited by distraction. Both interviews were conducted in
a public establishment. While this allowed for a less intimidating setting, the
added noise, conversation, and commotion may have distracted the subjects.
The interviews were limited by regulation. Before the discussion began, both
participants were informed that the information would be readily available to a
distinct audience. Although participants were ensured that their identity would
remain confidential, this factor may have been daunting.
The interviews were limited by number. Because only two people were
included in the interviews, the conclusions available to be drawn upon are limited.
In order for these findings to adequately represent a population or view group,
more interviews would be necessary.
The interviews were limited by lack of diversity. Although this research is
based upon subjects that represent two separate age groups, by no means can they
represent all the opinions found within those groups. Diversifying the
demographics of more participants would be beneficial.
Conclusions and Recommendations______________________________
Although Amber represents a very small percentage of her age group, it can be
derived from her interview that the younger generation tends to get their news on
the go. The news medium that proves to be the quickest and the most opportune
at the moment is usually utilized. As mentioned in her interview, this generation
relies heavily on online publication unless the print version is readily available. It
would be beneficial to the Missourian to offer their newspaper at no charge at
select locations on campus, such as classroom buildings, where it can be picked
up with no hassle. Also, because online news mediums are so popular, it is
important for the Missourian to keep their website up to date. A visually
attractive, current site is appealing to the audience.
Although both Amber and Michael agreed that the presence of the Missourian is
an important part of MU and Columbia, as well as a valuable experience for
future journalists, both age groups touched upon the paper’s negative public
image. It seems that both generations stereotype that paper as unprofessional and
non-community oriented. Both subjects agreed that the Missourian’s reporting is
unpredictable. From this perspective it is essential that the Missourian offer
current, balanced news coverage. Because Columbia is a “college town” much of
its news will be centered on events pertaining to the University. However, it is
important to decipher and publish only those events pertinent to the community as
Based on Michael’s interview, one could assume that the older generation is not
very aware of the Missourian’s secondary publications, Vox magazine and
Adelante. Both periodicals are more easily accessible for the younger age group,
provided that they are distributed mainly on campus. It could also be concluded
that the low success rate of these publications is due to lack of knowledge. If the
Missourian advertised them more frequently audience acceptance would grow,
possibly leading to an increase in Missourian readership overall.
Based upon Amber and Michael’s responses during the advertising portion of the
interview, it seems that the older generation is less concerned with advertisement.
Yet it seems to be a large selling point for the younger age group looking for an
eye-catching, modern, and colorful layout to draw their attention. In order for the
Missourian to secure the younger generation’s readership it must use its
“youthful” stereotype to an advantage by updating to a fresh, sharp image.
The questions asked in these interviews were divided into sub-categories similar
to those used in the previous focus group study.
General Media Usage
What type of media do you normally access?
Do you ever access news online?
Do you prefer standard or online media? Why?
How would you describe the Missourian’s image?
Do you agree or disagree that this is the proper image for the Missourian?
How would you change that image?
What do you like/dislike about reading the Missourian?
What do you think of the Missourian’s coverage and content?
What do you think of the Missourian’s website?
Are you familiar with Vox or Adelante?
How important is the advertising content of a newspaper to you?
What type of ads would you want to find in the Missourian?
Who are the Missourian’s main competitors?
What do you prefer about the competitors and their images?
What advantages/disadvantages does the Missourian have?