It is with increasing — and unfortunate — frequency that the news becomes part of the news.
Take this week, for example. The publisher of the Miami Herald, The Kansas City Star and dozens of newspapers across the country announced it is filing for bankruptcy protection.
The publisher’s 30 local newsrooms will continue to operate as usual as McClatchy Co. reorganizes under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
“When local media suffers in the face of industry challenges, communities suffer: polarization grows, civic connections fray and borrowing costs rise for local governments,” said CEO Craig Forman. “We are moving with speed and focus to benefit all our stakeholders and our communities.”
McClatchy said it expects fourth-quarter revenues of $183.9 million, down 14% from a year earlier. Its 2019 revenue is anticipated to be down 12.1% from the previous year. That would mean that the publisher’s revenue will have slid for six consecutive years.
In most markets, there are two contributing factors: There are fewer advertisers and there are fewer subscribers. Why those factors are in play is widely debated, but it usually boils down to: Consumers feel free news online is adequate; and advertisers feel social media is adequate for getting out their message.
Focusing online ignores that there are thousands of subscribers — in print and online — who pay for a service that puts community information in front of them in one valuable resource. It also dismisses the effort and cost it takes to gather, assemble and deliver such a product each day. (A mom-and-pop business can choose to shut down for a storm; a newspaper staff works through it, sometimes at great risk.) Lastly, free news online often is regurgitated or unvetted. Small-town newspapers are reliable in the sense they are the local source of information, collected by dependable members of our community who are committed to chronicle, inform, investigate and disseminate.
We see that commitment as the backbone of the community, our investment in it. We are the source for news (good, bad and ugly), and we are a place where voices of our community can be shared, and from those dialogues, changes can be made — policies, elections, laws — that strengthen our communities and improve our quality of life. That’s not insignificant. So much so, our job is protected by the U.S. Constitution. But as the news industry falters, we see it is not guaranteed.
McClatchy is a very large media organization. But newsrooms of all sizes are feeling the economic sands shifting under them. Ours is no different.
But what makes small community newspapers different is our ability to pivot. Sure, our audience feels the shift as we change out or eliminate content in an effort toward cost-savings, but papers like ours remain unique to the communities that we serve.
We already have longstanding “staples” that serve our audiences well. Each one has a loyal following.
Consider the following:
– On a daily basis, we provide award-winning, issue-driven articles about the things going on in the community that affect our schools, your wallet, our neighborhoods.
– We go beyond the police logs and court dockets to provide in-depth coverage of local police and courts, including tracking some stories that have been unfolding now for years.
– But we also have a thriving editorial page, discussing both local and statewide topics (and featuring Vermont-based editorial cartoonists, including Jeff Danziger and Tim Newcomb).
– Our local sports coverage is among the best in the state, because our sports writers have been doing this important work for so long, they know the context, the players and the coaches — literally.
– We have award-winning photography, which is often picked up by other news organizations around the state to fill their pages and websites, as well as national wire services.
– Arts Editor Jim Lowe produces the most comprehensive arts section in the state. Each week, Vermont Arts educates, entertains and reveals the rich culture of our arts community. There is nothing comparable.
– Our popular Weekend Magazine has regular columnists (Dennis Jensen, Willem Lange); and the Perspective pages are brimming with unique voices from around Vermont about the environment (Weekly Planet), higher education (Vermont By Degrees), John Nassivera’s “On Faith” column, as well as a host of other regulars who both provoke and challenge how we think about issues touching our lives.
Local matters. It matters to us. Our staff shops in local stores, attends local shows, eats at local restaurants. We are committed participants in the community, serving a dual role as both messenger and consumer. We believe in the community because we know it.
We just ask for a commitment in return — one that keeps a small-town newspaper both viable and able to do the important work that makes our community a better, more informed place to live. Consider it an investment.