Friday, May 28, 2021

Recent newspaper closures are mainly small-town weeklies

A farewell video from the Gallatin North Missourian begins with loading of paper rolls onto its press.

The pandemic has caused the closure of 70 newspapers in the United States, and "the newsrooms that are closing are mostly weeklies in small communities," reports Kristen Hare of The Poynter Institute, with the latest glimpse from Penny Abernathy of the University of North Carolina.

"Some report they’re merging with nearby publications. But that 'merger' means the end of news dedicated to those communities, the evaporation of institutional knowledge and the loss of local jobs," Hare writes. "At least 14 of the newsrooms now gone are owned by Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. Several are owned by Forum Communications Co." of Fargo. "And a few are — were — owned by local families." Her post concludes with a list, giving details about the papers.

Abernathy's research has found that the vast majority of papers closing since 2004 have been weeklies, but most were in suburbs. The next most common category were in towns that are not county seats. But in the last two years, more county seats have been losing their papers. In some cases, Like the CNHI markets of Morehead and Monticello, Ky., papers from adjoining and nearby counties have started weeklies, but in those two cases they have not yet reached the level of quality that CNHI offered.

Abernathy, who is moving to a visiting professorship at Northwestern University, told Hare the the pace of closures has been about 100 a year, but has accelerated. “Between places switching to online only and those that are merging, this is a really sharp increase, and not surprising, either.”

The latest paper to close, today, is the Gallatin North Missourian, whose retirement-bound owners announced May 5 that they would close the paper if they didn't find a buyer. They didn't, and the paper's closure is unusual because, unlike most weeklies, it has its own press. Here is its own obituary; its last post is a farewell video that ends with the press stop for the last edition.

On the brighter side, Loyd Ford of The Lake News in Calvert City, Ky., announces on his Facebook page that his non-county-seat weekly is starting its 38th year. He concludes, "It is a high honor to be able to publish a newspaper here. Thanks for sticking with us."

1 comment:

DSC said...

While the pandemic and the recession surely has speeded up the closure of small rural weeklies, we also must be realistic about how most of these closures were probably inevitable. About half of US counties have declining populations and therefore declining economies. It is very easy to find rural communities in almost every state that have lost one-third of their populations in the last 50-60 years. Some half lost more. Looking at maps from US Census data, one can find counties where the population has been declining more or less steadily since 1880 or 1890.
Rural weeklies may have a difficult time attracting and retaining well-qualified employees on the news/editorial and/or advertising sides. The closest printing press may be farther away than before. Postage costs are going through the roof. Rural weeklies for sale sometimes can't find a buyer. Many have been and many still are living on borrowed time.