‘It felt like an old friend died.’
I am an optimistic sort of person, generally. I believe in what I’m doing as a newspaper publisher, but a headline on an article written by Associated Press journalists David Bauder and David Lieb Monday, March 11, startled me. It read, “Decline in readers, ads leads hundreds of newspapers to fold.” It startled me, I think, because this time it wasn’t about the big metropolitan daily newspapers whose struggles I’ve been hearing about for a decade. This article (excerpts in italics) was much closer to home: Last September, Waynesville became a statistic. With the shutdown of its newspaper, the Daily Guide, this town of 5,200 people in central Missouri’s Ozark hills joined more than 1,400 other cities and towns across the U.S. to lose a newspaper over the past 15 years, according to an Associated Press analysis of data compiled by the University of North Carolina. Blame revenue siphoned by online competition, cost-cutting ownership, a death spiral in quality, sheer disinterest among readers, or reasons peculiar to given locales for that development. While national outlets worry about a president who calls the press an enemy of the people, many Americans no longer have someone watching the city council for them, chronicling the soccer exploits of their children, or reporting on the kindly neighbor who died of cancer. When reading this, I thought how sad it would be if something like this happened in Versailles. I thought about how, too many times lately, I’ve heard, “We’re not going to advertise in the paper, we posted it to Facebook.” I think Facebook has enough money. The article continued: Local journalism is dying in plain sight. The Daily Guide, which traces to 1962, was a family owned paper into the 1980s before it was sold to a series of corporate owners that culminated with GateHouse Media Inc., the nation’s largest newspaper company. ... As recently as 2010, the Daily Guide had four full-time news people, along with a page designer and three ad salespeople. But people left and weren’t replaced. Last spring, the Daily Guide was cut from five to three days a week. In June, the last newsroom staffer, editor Natalie Sanders, quit — she was burned out, she said. She made a bet with the only other full-time employee, ad sales person Tiffany Baker, over when the newspaper would close. Sanders said three years; Baker said one. The last edition was published three months later, on Sept. 7. “It felt like an old friend died,” Sanders said. “I sat and I cried, I really did. Because being the editor of the Daily Guide was all I wanted for a really long time.” ... Former publisher Joel Goodridge said, “When I first got into the newspaper business, it was intriguing, rewarding and I felt like I was doing something more than generating profits,” Goodridge said. “I felt like I was doing something for the community. As the years went by, it changed.” Why did the Daily Guide die? Was it because corporations or investment firms who own newspapers don’t truly care about the communities those newspapers serve and only about the bottom line? Is it because fewer people are reading newspapers and, instead, getting their “news” from social media? Is it because a generation of people have stopped caring about leaving a permanent legacy and are only living for themselves? It can be a vicious circle: Advertisers choose to use Facebook, Craig’s List, and other social media platforms, at the exclusion of the local press. As a result, the community newspaper’s advertising dollars begin to drop. The repercussions? Expenses are cut and employees are let go. As a consequence, news coverage suffers because there are less people doing more work. Then, when coverage declines, less people read the paper, and so it goes. I love living in Morgan County. I truly and genuinely enjoy being the publisher of two long-standing local community newspapers. I greatly appreciate the dedicated staff we have, who work very hard for limited compensation, because they believe in the local newspaper. I am also deeply grateful to the many local businesses who do continue to advertise, not because the newspaper is a “charity case,” but because they believe the newspaper is still a viable and effective way to reach their customers. I do not want to become a statistic, as did the Daily Guide. I do not want to be one of 1,400 other cities and towns across the U.S. to lose a newspaper. I honestly do not fear this happening. Nevertheless, we cannot relax or become complacent. We will continue to fight for freedom of the press. We will strive to publish a paper whose news coverage is fair and accurate. We will persist in supporting the local economy, keeping an eye on government, and celebrating people.