Saturday, May 23, 2009

The questions multiply as print newspapers struggle to survive

This week reports from across the country gave us more reason to worry about community papers, and some reason to hope.

The worry comes from a Pew Research Center report that theorizes Craigslist is killing off newspaper classified sections. There’s no doubt that large papers are losing classified ads as the use of Craigslist grows and encourages local use. I recently considered selling and/or buying a bicycle in the San Luis Obispo area and where did I look first --- Craigslist. My assumption was that it would be a more complete listing of what’s out there and without checking against the local daily, I suspect I was correct.

If you want to look at the Pew study and follow the debate, which is quite heated with many Craigslist defenders, go to the Pew web site at:

But this discouraging news did not keep a small, local chain of newspapers from expanding in the Bremerton, WA area.Here’s what the paper had to say about its new venture, which involves both print --- distributed free – and a web site:

“Beginning Thursday, the Kitsap Sun is launching the newest member of its Life family of community newspapers. Bremerton Life will debut as a monthly community newspaper, and will be direct-mailed free to 18,000 single-family residences in Manette, East Bremerton and waterfront homes in the West Bremerton, Kitsap Lake and Chico Way areas. Select business locations in the downtown area also will serve as points of distribution.
“Kitsap Sun former features editor and marketing director Deb Smith has been named contributing editor of the new publication and will write stories and shoot photos for the paper and its companion Web site,”

But my favorite story of the week was one that confirms my bias against community newspapers that are part of large chains. I just assume these corporate efforts have lost touch with their communities and hired young reporters who have little experience and aren’t inclined to stay around. Maybe I’m wrong but here’s the full story of one death of some local papers in Minnesota.

I hope the Bob Shaw, the writer for the Pioneer Press which published this story, will consider the full publication of much of his story a compliment. You need it all to get the flavor.
The headline reads: “In the east metro, tough times threaten small newspapers”

He starts by noting that:

” Bankruptcy has been declared by the company that owns the four-day-a-week Stillwater Gazette and other metro newspapers, and the papers are up for sale. The company shut down a weekly newspaper in Inver Grove Heights in February.
“Early this month, weekly newspapers were axed in Stillwater and Lake Elmo.”
The Lake Elmo Mayor complained, according to Shaw’s report, that “Lake Elmo Mayor Dean Johnston. He said the town doesn't have a natural gathering place such as a high school or a business district, so the newspaper, the Lake Elmo Leader, helped define the city.”
And Yvonne Klinnert, who had been editor of the Leader, noted that closing the paper down was “the most difficult thing I have ever done in my career.”
One of the other reporters said the laid off employees, numbering seven, were mostly given no notice and three days severance.

Added Shaw: “The next day, Klinnert had to deliver the bundles of the final edition herself.
" ‘I am the only employee at this point," she said.”
I guess in her case I’d make an exception. She’s no doubt something more than a two-year wonder. But you have to worry about the small town newspaper chain owners that are making these decisions.
These were not the leading papers in their towns.
Shaw went on to explain:
“The papers were owned by RiverTown Newspapers, a division of Fargo, N.D.-based Forum Communications, which owns daily and weekly newspapers across the Upper Midwest.
“ 'It Takes Revenue' / RiverTown director Steve Messick said it was painful to close the Lake Elmo and Stillwater papers.
“ ‘It's a sign of the times," he said. “Stillwater did an excellent job. But it takes revenue.’
“The Leader was started six years ago. The Courier was founded in 1988, and RiverTown bought it in 2005.
“ Messick said the newspapers couldn't compete with longer-established newspapers — including the Stillwater Gazette and the Oakdale/Lake Elmo Review.”
Even the chains that own the long-established papers are having trouble, however.
Noted Shaw:
“The (Stillwater) Gazette is owned by American Community Newspapers, which declared bankruptcy in April. When asked about consequences of the bankruptcy, spokesman Joe LoBello said there will be "no impact on day-to-day operations." But LoBello said the newspapers will be auctioned off by the end of the month.”
For more of the story go soon to:

Monday, May 18, 2009

The new and (maybe) prospering community newspapers

Somewhere in this country almost every day a publisher, editor or writer for a community newspaper tells us they are doing well in the face of the meltdown of the big corporate dailies.

Tracking this for some months, I've concluded that may be true in small communities where the publisher and the editor and the writer are living in the town and invested there.

Corporate chains of weeklies and small dailies aren't having the same success, I sense, because they are too removed from the communities. Their local hires may stay around for a couple of years but aren't there to stay. It shows in the product and in the bottom line.

That's just a superficial judgment based on what I've seen at a glance. If there proves to be any reader interest, I'll take a harder look at this in coming weeks.

For now I would like to point you to a pair of columns in publications that call themselves local newspapers but have the appearance of on-line local papers. I can't be sure because I'm not there to check it out.

Here are the links to their websites and in each case a column about this issue. You may have to paste them into your browser to get there.

First from the publication serving Opelika and Auburn, Alabama:

And second from a publication serving the reaches of agricultural land and communities along I-5 from Justine to Santa Nella in California:

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Finishing Farewell Bend -- then what?

I'm planning now to post at least a chapter a week at my blog Farewell Bend the Novel until I run out of chapters. Which is not that many weeks away. Andd then what?

I'd like to find some useful and less than cliche way to write about what is happening to newspapers. And, as a result, to those of us still alive who love them. But I'm not sure right now how to approach the subject in a way that will contribute to the discussion. I've a few weeks to see what I can come up with.