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NMSU professor says affordable focus group design helps community paper marketing

A New Mexico State University journalism professor says community newspapers should employ marketing research to learn what readers and advertisers want or need from their papers.

Sean McCleneghan, a 28-year NMSU faculty member in journalism and mass communications, developed an extended focus group questionnaire over a 15-year period that provides an affordable marketing technique that he says can assist community newspapers in garnering information about where their paper ranks with community opinion leaders.

"What I am pleased about is that my focus group design is something that can deliver a 'snapshot' for our community newspapers across America," McCleneghan said. "It won't cost $20,000 to employ. Small dailies and weeklies can't afford that amount of money to do a marketing strategy."

McCleneghan has been providing free focus group research for New Mexico community newspapers since 1994.

In the spring 2010 edition of "Grassroots Editor," a journal published by the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors, McCleneghan points to two types of focus group methods - an extended focus group design that produces quantitative results and another that yields qualitative ideas.

The first design makes use of a questionnaire prior to participants talking to the focus group moderator. The second method produces ideas from discussion with the moderator.

In the study, McCleneghan held 24 extended focus group sessions with local opinion leaders in 10 New Mexico towns from 1994-2009, regarding six weekly and four small daily newspapers in their respective areas.

The opinion leaders included business leaders, lawyers, elected city and county officials, school board superintendents, police chiefs, county sheriffs, agri-business leaders and chamber of commerce officials.

The study sought answers to newspaper publishing areas in leadership, coverage, reporting, image, advertising and circulation.

McCleneghan asks, "Could opinion leaders identify any attributes of their respective community newspaper that built better community relations, expand circulation and readership, or increase advertising revenue?"

The answer: yes.

"What's important is that the New Mexico community newspapers in this focus group research from 1994-2009 care about how they are doing," McCleneghan said. "They want to know if their efforts are being recognized. They are investing in their communities."

McCleneghan served as department head for the NMSU journalism and mass communications program from 1982-94 and is author of more than 80 scholarly publications in media studies.

For more information, contact McCleneghan at (575) 646-2742 or at smcclene@nmsu.edu.