Friday, September 14, 2018

GateHouse Media's closure of twice-weekly newspapers in two Arkansas county seats runs contrary to industry trend

By Al Cross
Director and Professor, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, University of Kentucky

For all the ink and electrons used to lament the shrinking of the newspaper business, most newspaper closures in the United States in the last 15 years have been among small weeklies in towns that are not the largest town in their county or its seat. That's why GateHouse Media's closure of twice-weekly papers in county seats in southwest Arkansas stand out among the company's recently announced cuts.

Today will see the final editions of The Hope Star, a twice-weekly in Hempstead County, and The Daily Siftings-Herald of Arkadelphia, in adjoining Clark County. GateHouse also closed the weekly Nevada County Picayune Times. Earlier, the news-media giant closed papers near Little Rock, the state capital.

The Star's circulation was down to 930, in a town of nearly 10,000, but it was the only paper in the county of 22,000. GateHouse's regional vice president, Matt Guthrie, wrote this week that the Star had fewer than 500 subscribers, in a county with 9,000 homes. (He didn't mention single-copy sales, which often constitute a majority of a rural paper's circulation.) He said Clark County had about the same number of homes, and the Siftings-Herald had about 900 subscribers.

Shifting blame from his company, which is owned by venture capitalists, Guthrie wrote, "In order for a local newspaper to survive it must have the support of the community. . . . The loss of revenue and subscribers was just too much to surmount." He said a new management team brought in a year ago was "saddled with a long history of unprofitability."

Guthrie added, "We have received inquiries from individuals interested in purchasing the papers we are closing and we will explore options there. We have also received calls and comments from disappointed customers expressing concerns for the loss of community coverage; unfortunately, some have included inexcusable hate speech directed to our staff."

In Hope, the news "caused our community to be flooded with emotions," Beckie Moore, executive director of the Hope-Hempstead County Chamber of Commerce, told Jim Williamson of the daily Texarkana Times, in adjoining Miller County. "Those who grew up in Hope remember the newspaper as their lifeline to the community. . .. The Hope Star, as with any local paper, was the community welcome mat. You could read the paper and sense that our town mattered."

Moore told Williamson, "The loss of a news source is a great loss, no matter how you look at it. Not everyone has a phone or Internet service readily available in order to 'view' online news. . . . We are fortunate to have radio stations in Hope for those who are not receiving online news. Our stations will continue providing the 'hometown connection,' and for that we should be grateful. That being said, there is something to be said about holding print and reading articles while viewing pictures." (Read more)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've been in the newspaper business for 34 years at small community weekly and daily newspapers in West Virginia, Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky, Ohio and Arkansas. I spent a couple years at a weekly in Arkansas and about half of our circulation was single copy -- far more than in any other market I have ever been in.