Friday, June 02, 2017

Columbia Journalism Review publishes brief profiles of 5 independently owned rural papers

Five rural newspapers, from North Carolina to Alaska, get brief profiles in the latest print edition of Columbia Journalism Review, which focuses on local news. The series of profiles begins with some facts that urban readers may need: "Local news outlets across the country play an essential role in creating civically engaged and informed communities. Often, these outlets do their work with minimal resources. Sometimes, they do it with hardly anything, with one or two journalists taking on the specialized tasks of an entire news staff."

All five papers are independently owned, like about 40 percent of U.S. weeklies. Those facts are not noted by writers Shelley Hepworth, Carlett Spike and Pete Vernon, who are Delacorte Fellows at the magazine. Two of the papers recently lost their leaders to death: the Nome Nugget, oldest paper in Alaska, and The Budget, an Ohio-based paper for Amish and Mennonite communities.

Haecker and Hahn (Nome Nugget photo)
In Nome, "Diana Haecker and her husband, Nils Hahn, took over the weekly after its previous owner, Nancy McGuire, died last year," CJR reports. "The Nugget regularly covers winter harvesting, Iditarod season, and climate change. Says Haecker: 'We’re pretty much on ground zero of climate change, of new realities in regards to ship traffic and ice melting.'"

The three-paragraph profile of The Budget doesn't mention the January 2016 death of publisher Keith Rathbun, who made several national media appearances and was active in the National Newspaper Association. The profile quotes Associate Publisher Milo Miller as saying that the paper's model remains the same: a vehicle for reports from Amish and Mennonites around the country.

North Carolina's monthly Ocracoke Observer, which serves an island on the Outer Banks, "is run from Peter Vankevich’s porch, and the office uniform consists of shorts and flip-flops. Vankevich owns the monthly with Connie Leinbach," and both are 63, CJR reports. "Leinbach says the Observer had become more of a monthly newsletter by the time they took it over, but 'We transformed it into a true newspaper. We found people really do want to read about all the news going on here.'"

The Hooker County Tribune in Mullen, Neb., "is a one-woman show" in a county of only 736 people, CJR reports. Gerri Peterson, 31, started writing for the weekly "in the eighth grade, and continued throughout college. When the owners asked her about her plans after graduation, she responded, half-joking, 'Well, my dream job is to own a small-town newspaper, so let me know when you guys are ready to sell.'" She became owner at 22.

The Ferndale Enterprise on the coast of Northern California has won awards for its hard-nosed coverage of the county fair association. Caroline Titus, 55, a former TV and radio reporter, bought the paper in 1998 and runs it from her home. CJR reports, "Since the November election, Titus says, not only has she gained subscribers, 'I’m getting postcards with people saying, ‘Thank you for everything you’ve done to protect the press’s rights in our little town.’"

An earlier, longer story in CJR profiled the Inquirer and Mirror, on Nantucket Island.

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