Monday, January 04, 2021

Del Rio lost its daily paper, then got a weekly, but with a publisher who has little long-term faith in the printed word

Val Verde County (Wikipedia map)
Val Verde County, Texas, has about 49,000 people, and for most of its colorful history (its Judge Roy Bean was "the law west of the Pecos") it had a daily newspaper – until April, when Southern Newspapers cut the Del Rio News-Herald's print schedule from five days to two, citing the pandemic. Then, on Nov. 18, the company published the paper's final edition, turning the county into one of the small but increasing number of "news deserts" that once had daily papers.

"The end of the News-Herald was swift for the staff and a shock to residents, who had somehow expected their newspaper to last forever," reports James Dobbins of The New York Times. "Enter Joel Langton, a 56-year-old military public-affairs veteran who decided to turn an online events website he had started into a 16-page, ad-supported weekly tabloid," The 830 Times, named for the area's telephone code and started a few months earlier as an online events website.

Langton hired two former News-Herald staffers to cover the news while keeping his day job at Laughlin Air Force Base. Karen Gleason told Dobbins, “The 830 Times is a leap of faith. I just want this paper to be a voice for the community, interesting and truthful stories about people in Del Rio.”

The 830 Times at Rudy’s Bar-B-Q, one of about 60 distribution
locations. (Photo by Christopher Lee for The New York Times)
Steven T. Webb, a former Del Rio police officer who won a City Council runoff election in December, "said the fact that only 12 percent of voters turned out in the general election was partly attributable to the News-Herald shutdown." He said social media and word of mouth are "the only way we get the news now."

Social media pose obstacles for The 830 Times. Noticias Del Rio TV, a bilingual Facebook page that also serves Ciudad Acuña, across the Rio Grande, has nearly 85,000 followers, Dobbins reports, while "The 830 Times so far has 3,000 followers. . . . The disparate numbers hint at the obstacles Mr. Langton faces in his push to make The 830 Times succeed in a world dominated by Google and Facebook advertising and competitors with Spanish-language appeal. . . . Langston concedes that his efforts to provide Del Rio with a newspaper it can hold in its hands are probably temporary. He believes the printed word is going extinct."

“Am I gambling on the print product? Yes. I could lose it all,” he told Dobbins. “I hate to tell you this, buddy, but in five or 10 years, newspapers won’t exist anymore.” Dobbins concludes: "He figures he has five years to prove himself wrong."

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