||The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with North America and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (April 2010)|
Community paper is a term used by publishers, advertisers and readers to describe a range of publications that share a common service to their local community and commerce. Their predominant medium being newsprint, often free and published at regular weekly or monthly intervals, Community Papers are distinguished by their demonstrable levels of local engagement, rather than by the scope of their content. While Merriam-Webster and other dictionaries have yet to define Community Paper, the term has long been incorporated into the actual name of six state, five regional and one national trade association  of hometown publishers of passing events, both general and commercial. While the diverse composition of their membership may cast a wide tent over the term, all Community Papers have a Nameplate, bear a Masthead, are fixed in print and dated by edition, are published at regular intervals, and are archived internally at a minimum. Whether a specific Community Paper might more resemble a Shopper or a Newspaper, all such local papers fit the dictionary definition of Publication and Periodical, and are clearly distinguished from Flyers, Handbills and Circulars which are printed, usually at sporadic intervals, and serve a limited, often singular commercial interest.
The term Community Paper has become increasingly useful for those seeking commonality over arbitrary distinctions in their search for where fingers and eyeballs meet words and images on ink and pulp on the average kitchen table. While the term "Penny Press" dates back generations, and the largest auditor of circulations of paid newspapers this year adopted rules to again redefine "paid" as that least of American currency denominations, a penny, the price per copy and percentage of content devoted to noncommercial matter have often confounded those seeking bright lines in the classification of newsprint publishing. The seminal work in this effort to divide publishers and their products was the 1940 treatment by James E. Pollard, Ph.D., then Director of the School of Journalism at Ohio State University. The noble effort was the most comprehensive of its kind, and is particularly instructive as free circulation was just emerging, and paid circulation still meant paid. Even against that backdrop, Professor Pollard notes early into his discussion that: "Unfortunately, not even the dictionaries agree fully as to a basic definition, perhaps partly because there are so many kinds of papers."  And in the matter of disparity in state laws, Pollard laments: "Even casual examination will show the great variety and utter lack of uniformity in these statutory definitions of what constitutes a newspaper for legal purposes." 
While free community papers may have complicated Professor Pollard's quest to craft the ultimate description of "legitimate newspaper," their emergence becoming increasingly common with the establishment of Third Class Mails in 1928, the explosive growth and real birth of an industry came after his exercise in publishing segregation. Less than half a decade hence, notes free paper publishing pioneer Victor Jose notes in his treatise on the industry, the wave of returning veterans of World War Two came home to plant publishing flags in their own hometowns, in service to the obvious communications needs and giving rise to free community papers for all. By the late 1990s, the trade associations representing free community paper publishers began their universal embrace of independent audits of circulation, and soon into the new century the industry was governed by the strict standards and scrutiny of Circulation Verification Council ). Today, the weekly, audited reach of free community papers exceeds 65,000,000 according to the collaborative initiative, PaperChain ).
- http://www.paperchain.com/associations.html, see PaperChain, Your National Connection to Local Media, Advisory Board and Associations
- http://pe.usps.com/text/dmm300/dmm300_landing.htm, as opposed to the Classification for Rates at the United States Postal Service. Subchapter 707 of the Domestic Mail Manual, Special Standards, Periodicals, provides for free newspapers, paid publications consisting predominantly of advertising, and more broadly for publications containing up to 75% advertising, with at least half of copies paid for, paid meaning no less than half a nominal established price
- http://www.accessabc.com/newsbulletin/qandrquiz2/index.html, see Audit Bureau of Circulations, "Are you ready for the April 1, 2009, U.S, newspaper rule changes?" online quiz
- http://www.archive.org/stream/journalismseries14ohiouoft#page/n1/mode/2up, see The Newspaper as Defined by Law, James E. Pollard, Ph.D., Ohio State University Press, 1940
- The Free Paper In America: Struggle for Survival, Victor Jose, 2000
- Cowichan Valley Voice
- http://www.paperchain.com/media.html, see PaperChain, Media Facts