More than 1,400 cities across the United States have lost their community newspaper in the past 15 years, according to the Associated Press, which studied data compiled by the University of North Carolina. The newspapers include dailies and weeklies.
Is it because of the internet? That was a factor in some shutdowns. The opinion here is that huge newspaper corporations that own many newspapers had more to do with newspaper failures than the internet and other factors, such as economic conditions.
These newspaper corporations entered the daily field first and then started buying up weeklies and twice-a-week papers. One of the largest newspaper owners is GateHouse Media Inc., the largest media company in the country, with 451 newspapers at the end of 2018, again according to the AP. There are other giants in the newspaper field.
What has happened is these newspaper giants put too much emphasis on the bottom line, cut their staffs, and are and were aggressive in cost-cutting in other areas of the newspaper operation. The result has been less local news and photos, falling circulation and a drop in advertising revenue. The result has been skeletons of what were once lively newspapers.
The giants put less emphasis on supporting the communities their newspapers serve. Newspapers failed because they became a nonentity in their communities. A good newspaper provides leadership in a community by the information it provides its readers and through editorials, which lead to dialogue on issues among citizens. A successful editorial is one that makes readers think about a subject. Editorials can impact thoughts on an issue.
Newspapers record the his-tory of communities, which is one of the many reasons they are relevant. The late Ralph Gregory became a noted historian in this area because of his historical writings. For his stories, he researched early copies of newspapers in this area and other sources.
Community newspapers’ main role is to provide information about what’s going on in the community it serves.
AP did a story on the loss of newspapers in towns and cities, centering on the Fort Leonard Wood area where the Daily Guide served several communities, including Waynesville, a town of 5,200 people. The Daily Guide was family-owned into the 1980s when it was sold to a series of corporate owners before it was acquired by GateHouse, which immediately made cuts to improve the bottom line. Last spring the Daily Guide went from five days to three days of publication. The final edition was published last September. Circulation dropped from 3,600 to 675 copies. The paper was smaller and carried less news and ads.
The AP interviewed people in that area who mostly blamed the demise on GateHouse and a lack of community support. Tim Berrier was fired as publisher for resisting “corporate penny-pinching” in 1996. He told the AP that GateHouse “set the Daily Guide up to fail.”
GateHouse told the AP the Daily Guide was hurt by a dwindling advertising market among national retailers. The paper, like many others, supplemented its income with outside printing jobs, but those dried up, too, the president of U.S. newspaper operations for GateHouse said.
“Losing a newspaper,” Keith Prichard, chairman of the board at the security Bank of Pulaski County and a lifelong resident of the area, told the AP “is like losing the heartbeat of a town.”