Friday, June 05, 2009

What will you do if your local newspaper shuts down?

I first heard about the dire straits of central Connecticut's newspapers when I attended a journalism conference at Central Connecticut State University last November. The story wasn't making the national news, but the consequences--the threatened closing of several central Connecticut newspapers that are the "only games in town"--were potentially devastating. By January, lawmakers met with state officials to discuss what might save some of the papers in the Journal Register chain. The Bristol Press and the New Britain Herald were saved when a new owner stepped up. But other newspapers around the country haven't been as lucky.....

The Ann Arbor News, a paper in the massive Advance/Newhouse chain is slated to cease daily publication and focus mainly on their web presence, with a twice-weekly print publication starting in July. Other papers in large urban areas, Seattle Post-Intelligencer and The Rocky Mountain News closed up print-shop altogether and are now web-only.

That's not to mention the huge numbers of weeklies all over the country that have closed up shop altogether.

So, what if legislators don't step in? What if it's not cost-effective to shut down the print product and go web-only? I asked Placebloggers about the newspaper-death watch in their regions and what they might be doing about it....

Barry Rafkind of , a "new media collaborative" of Somerville, MA residents, wrote about what's going on in Boston, where the GateHouse New England papers have experienced major cutbacks, and the situation between The Boston Globe and its parent company (NYTimes Co.) remains precarious. Barry told our Placeblogger group: "These cutbacks motivate our team behind to work harder and faster on setting up our own community-funded journalism similar to Spot.Us but using ThePoint instead. We have solicited story ideas on the blog and are looking for fiscal sponsorship from a non-profit to allow us to collect donations. "

Ross Nunamaker in Nazareth, PA, whose placeblog NewsOverCoffe is a "one and a half person show" that currently doesn't make money, said that his community " is situated in the 'overlap' area of two daily publications and gets more recognition than it probably should in the fight for subscriptions. My placeblog benefits from this because both work well with me and I recognize their coverage for potential subscribers.

"One is more 'bloated' and the other 'leaner', needless to say bloat is getting cut and lean is doing as well as can be expected."

Steve Thurston who keeps the Buckingham Herald Tribblog in Arlington, VA noted that the weekly Arlington Connection may be in "bad shape," as it is the smallest paper in a 19-paper chain, and may be treading water with a small staff of seven.

On the other hand, Steve observed some interesting things going in back in his hometown of Glens Falls, NY with its local weekly, The Chronicle: "They've always been a lean corporation and have never had a website of any real value. Everyone up there reads the Chronicle, and they run almost exclusively the ads of small, local businesses. They have I think one car dealership and occasionally an insert for a pharmacy or grocery chain. Mostly it's the local roofers, law offices, business supplies, boutiques of whatever type, restaurants, etc. "

Perhaps the solution to the problem with local newspapers isn't a singular solution. It could be that each paper has to take into consideration not just how to help it run "leaner and meaner" but also must consider the cultural landscape that it exists within. The solutions to the survival of local papers may be as distinct as local cuisine. And in that mix, placebloggers can come in and add their own particular spice to the mix to help maintain a vibrant and vital news community.

Further reading: Ross Nunamaker has created some great lenses on Squidoo on starting and maintaining a placeblog. Check out his Placeblogging 101 "Connect Neighbors to Build better Communities" lens and Placeblogging 201: "Technical and Legal Considerations" lens for some great info.

This post originally published at