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


Steve Thurston said...

Hey Tish,
For clarification, I have worked with the Arlington Connection and I have heard about cut backs from friends, but my estimate of the number of reporters should be considered only an estimate.
--Steve Thurston

Wendell Dryden said...

What would I do? Breathe a sigh of relief!

I have no doubt an alternative print resource would soon appear. I would be hopeful that it would - for a time - remain out of the hands of the major industry group / family that owns and operates Every Single Daily and most weeklies in my province.

Yep. Having (our version of) big business decide print news is unprofitable seems like the only hope for a return to something like a truly local, responsive newspaper.


Josh said...

Hi Tish,

I agree that the future of local news will look different in different places, and appreciate the fact that you bring policy into the equation. I worry that without some form of government intervention too many of these new news ventures (online and off) will not survive. I have been working for years on the issues that Wendell mentions above - media consolidation and media ownership - and agree that we need a diversity of voices not a few giant corporate owners. However, I don't think that the market alone will save the news. The failure of major metro or regional dailies will automatically spawn an alternative that fully meets the information needs of our communities. Even the best local news blogs speak frankly about the fact that their model can't scale up to cover every issue, in depth that needs covering. It has been bad public policy that has opened the door to such dramatic media consolidation in the past, and it'll take good policy decisions to help set the stage for a future news ecosystem that supports diverse reporting projects, local voices, and a range of forms of distribution. I get into a lot more detail about what some of these policies might look like in a report we released last month here:

Thanks for sparking this conversation.

khonmanrak said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.