What's your answer, then? Three? Four?
Most of you probably immediately said The Daily News, which circulates throughout the territory. And since you're reading this commentary in The Source, the territory's new cyberpaper, you most likely listed it as well.
St. Croix residents doubtless said The Avis, which circulates on that island. And many, although probably nowhere near all, St. Thomas and St. John residents said The Independent, which circulates only on those two islands and first hit the streets just last March.
And No. 5? It's one that made its debut last fall and circulates on all three islands. But most of you have probably never heard of, let alone seen, it — unless your business has been approached about advertising or you have some connection with the hospitality industry.
It's called the Virgin Islander, and like the other three "hard copy" (i.e. printed) papers, it's a tabloid with lots of color front and back. It circulates exclusively to overnight island visitors at our hotels and resorts. It's produced by The Daily News Publishing Co. and it carries a printed price of 60 cents but is distributed free to guests by the hotels.
For a market area of about 100,000 residents to have five daily newspapers, even if one is a cyberpaper, has got to be unique in the United States, if not the world.
Only 28 cities in our nation today have more than one local "hard copy" daily paper and only three — New York, Chicago and Tucson, Ariz. — have more than two. Chicago and New York each have five, but they also have metro populations of multi-millions, and, even so, in each case one of their dailies is targeted strictly to a suburban market.
Of those 28 cities, 16 have two newspapers that are, at least on paper, editorially independent but are produced under joint operating agreements whereby the printing, advertising and circulation operations are combined.
Our four "hard copy" papers in the USVI have interrelations of a different sort.
The Independent is produced by The Avis and is owned by Rena Brodhurst, who is a co-owner of The Avis, which was for many years under the direction of her father, Canute Brodhurst. Ms. Brodhurst started the Independent in direct response to perceived public outrage over the sale of The Daily News a year ago by the Gannett chain to interests controlled by Jeffrey Prosser, whose political alliance with the then-incumbent governor was well known.
Each day, many, if not most, of the same local stories appear in both the Independent and The Avis, on different pages sometimes and with different type faces, as do regional, national and world news reports. But since one circulates on St. Croix and the other on St. Thomas/St. John, readers never see the duplication, unless they make a trip from one district to the other and acquire both papers in a given day.
The Daily News, as noted, publishes the Virgin Islander. Many of the same pages, including sports, business, opinion, national/world and comic pages, appear in both papers each day, with a change in typeface for headlines.
But there is one significant difference in the editorial content: With the exception of sports and an 8-inch column of "What's happening" listings of activities of potential interest to visitors, there is no local news in the Virgin Islander.
No crime, violence, political scandal, fiscal mismanagement, health and education crises or other negativity to upset visitors. But also no cultural, community or other positive news.
Many in the hospitality industry and the wider business community think leaving out our "bad" news is just dandy. On the other hand, for years, the tourism industry has hyped "local culture" as a visitor attraction, yet the new product eliminates all reference thereto.
Each day's Virgin Islander carries a colorful tabloid 24-page weekly insert called Island Delights. This is a visitor guide of "where to go and what to do" listings that changes little from week to week except for the first two pages of feature stories. Many tourist-oriented shops and services that do not advertise in The Daily News are buying into the new product.
The upside of this five-paper position is that our Virgin Islands community has considerable choice in its sources of newspaper news. Readers can stick with their preferred paper or read more than one (where available).
The downside is that, as with the wonderful world of telephone books, advertisers are between a rock and a hard place. In an economy crouched on the cusp of bankruptcy, the last thing the business sector can afford to do is multiply or divide its advertising dollars.
Newspapers, like every other element of the private sector, have to make money to stay afloat. Whether the local economy can support five of them - and what will happen if it cannot — remains to be seen.
Editor's note: Journalist Jean Etsinger moved to St. Thomas in 1982 after working as an editor at The Chicago Tribune and the Miami Herald. She is "the" journalism faculty at the University of the Virgin Islands.