Thursday, June 10, 2021

Twice in three weeks, W.Va. weekly warns it's in trouble

The Examiner's June 2 front page
The latest newspaper to (purposely) print a front page without any news is the Moorefield Examiner of Hardy County, West Virginia. Or maybe there was news: about itself. Last week's edition was the second in three weeks to warn the county's 14,000 residents that the weekly is at risk.

In a long editorial column on May 19, headlined "You'll miss us," Publisher Hannah Heishman said that reading social-media discussion about a local controversy made her realize that "People in Hardy County do not realize the newspaper is a valid, formal source of information." After a bit of a primer about the civic role of newspapers ("helping keep your government honest by ensuring you know what they're doing"), the virtues of local ownership ("zero reason not to tell the truth about what we see and hear"), and debunking various myths about journalism, Heishman gave readers the bottom line: "Fewer people read the paper, so fewer people advertise; less money comes in; I can't pay staff, postage or printing, so the paper gets smaller, and the cycle repeats until we close. Once we close, there is no one behind us. No one. No local or county government coverage. . . . No youth or school sports. No Hardy-specific obituaries." Papers in other counties "can't afford to cover us any more than we can afford to cover them."

Hardy County (Wikipedia map)
Ending her bit of a rant, Heishman wrote: "Here's the thing: We can't make you care. We can't make you decide to read a local newspaper, so you really know what's actually happening in your community . . . We cover things so you don't have to attend every government meeting, to save you time and protect you from rumors, actual lies and the he said, she said -- and you still won't engage until it's too late, and then you insult us with half-assed excuses about how the paper is worthless trash and you 'don't read that junk,' while blaming us: 'Why didn't you tell us?' We did. You didn't care; didn't believe us; weren't paying attention. You'll miss us when we're gone."

Explaining the June 2 edition, Heishman wrote, "Front-page stories are elsewhere in the paper and there will be a paper next week. If we all don’t start caring and enabling local news, though, the future is grim, and not far off — not just in Moorefield, but for any locally owned, community newspaper." After the paper came out, she told Don Smith of the West Virginia Press Association, “We are taken for granted. . . . We made them think about it today. We have gotten calls and emails about the newspaper, about subscribing and advertising. They care today, but how will they feel in six weeks?”

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