Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Daily paper in Waycross, Georgia, closes, increasing the number of 'news desert' counties in the state to 29 of 159

News deserts in the U.S.   University of North Carolina map; click it to enlarge or click here for the interactive version.
The 105-year-old Waycross Journal-Herald in southeast Georgia published its last edition Sept. 30. In the announcement on its website, Editor Jack Williams III attributed the decision to reduced print subscriptions and advertising revenue because of the encroachment of the internet and other news sources. The Williams family has owned the daily since 1916.

Publisher Roger Williams, the editor's brother, said it was a difficult decision, but revenue fell during the recession and hasn't fully recovered since. They tried to sell the paper twice but both deals fell through. To keep the paper going, he said, would have required the family and other stockholders to use personal funds. "Williams said he regrets it for everyone, but at 71 he couldn’t risk his personal finances in hopes things would somehow turn around," Terry Dickson reports for The Brunswick News, a nearby daily.

Waycross in Ware County
(Wikipedia maps)
The Journal-Herald's closure adds Ware County, population 36,000, to the significant number of counties with no newspaper in the state. Georgia now has 29 news-desert counties, the highest number of any state, according to University of North Carolina journalism professor Penny Abernathy's research. The state has 159 counties, more than any state but Texas, which has 22 news-desert counties out of 254. Most of the news-desert counties are poor and/or small, lacking a strong economic base for local news media.

"The Journal-Herald has been the primary daily paper for Brantley and other neighboring counties, especially in face of pullbacks by the Florida Times-Union [in Jacksonville] and Atlanta Journal-Constitution," Dickson reports. Brantley County, which has no local paper, is between Waycross and Brunswick.

Not only does the Journal-Herald's closure leave Ware County residents without a local paper, it poses decisions for governments that need to publish paid public notices for everything from foreclosures to public hearings. In some cases, legal action cannot be taken until an ad is published, Dickson notes. Clerk of Court Melba Fiveash told him that the notices must be published in a paid-circulation newspaper, and should be the one with the most subscribers in the jurisdiction.

The prospect of legal advertising could encourage someone to open a weekly paper, which sometimes happens after a daily closes, but there has been no word yet on any such plans. 

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