Utah's weekly newspapers are feeling the economic pinch that small towns all across America have been feeling for a decade, says Nancy White, executive manager of the Utah Press Association.

She says the number of weekly papers in the state has fallen in the past eight years from 53 to 44, and several papers that were twice-weekly publications are now published only once a week."The weekly papers in Utah that have survived the economic crunch - caused in part by the national farm crisis and a population migration from small towns to big cities - are in fairly stable economic condition," she said.

"Most small-town Utah weeklies are looking forward to an upturn in their circulation and advertising revenues in the future. But rural Utah needs new business and industry if the state's weekly newspapers are going to remain healthy."

Representatives from most of Utah's weekly newspapers will attend the 96th annual Utah Press Association convention Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Feb. 16-18, at the Salt Lake Hilton Hotel.

"The state's economic future, especially rural Utah's future, is sure to be a topic of conversation at the convention," White said.

Gov. Norm Bangerter will address the journalists at noon Friday, and University of Utah professor Milton Hollstein, a former Fulbright Scholar in China, will speak at 10 a.m. Saturday on how freedom of the press is evolving in China.

Saturday afternoon, a panel of state legislators will answer questions covering a variety of topics.

Better Newspaper Contest awards will be presented at the closing banquet at 7 p.m. Saturday.

White said she expects some weekly newspapers will start up in the Salt Lake area in the future because of the large population and the great number of businesses there.

She said it has become easy for someone to start up a newspaper. "You still need money, but printing technology has evolved to the point a person can practically put all his printing equipment on a desk top. Computers have made publishing easy."

Most rural Utah weeklies supplement their income through printing a variety of items in their printing plants, from business cards to letterhead stationery. "Printing the weekly newspaper takes only a small part of the printing press' time.

"Most Utah weeklies are family affairs, either mom-and-pop papers or papers that have been in the family for generations and keep being passed down from father to son."

She described the typical Utah weekly newspaper editor as "independent, tough-minded and hard-nosed. They run into plenty of criticism and they are often under fire from people in their community who disagree with their editorial stand."

There is a great deal of satisfaction in the weekly newspaper business, and budding small-town journalists can expect a lot of fun and excitement - and generally hard work, long hours and low pay, White said.

"One of the most often heard comments at any weekly newspaper convention is liable to be `what am I doing in this business, anyway?' " But, she said, small-town journalism remains real grass-roots American communication.

"You can't get much closer to people in the communications field than the hometown newspaper."