Saturday, March 18, 2023

A weekly paper had to announce its demise for locals to fully appreciate it; community support encourages quick buyer

Two front pages, superimposed on a aerial view of the town (Citizen Facebook page)
The headline was stark: "Pulaski Citizen to end Feb. 15." There it was in black and white, announcing the end of a weekly newspaper that was founded in 1854 and serves a Tennesssee county of 30,000 people. The story made the familiar points about lack of revenue, but also some points not often made in such cases: "Giles County will have no newspaper or news platform dedicated solely to covering local news, sports, events, government and people."

Then Publisher Scott Stewart got more personal: "Some people will be upset about the loss of the Pulaski Citizen, some won’t. We’ve just arrived at the place in time where the number of those who are upset diminished to the tipping point. As devastating as this is for those of us who cherish what local news is and means to our community, so many people will never realize what they’ve lost until it’s gone. That may be the saddest part of the whole thing."

But Stewart wasn't quite right. His story said owners Sloan and David Lake were willing to sell, and Main Street Media, which has 11 other Middle Tenenssee papers, bought the Citizen in a matter of days. MSM co-owner Dave Gould said, "There was a passion for this newspaper within the community. There was a lot of angst and worry about it closing. So, we felt good about the purchase and have seen overwhelming support from the people of Pulaski."

Gould and Stewart discussed the chain of events on a recorded Zoom call with Mike Blinder of Editor & Publisher magazine, which turned it into its latest "vodcast." The star of the show is Pulaski Mayor J.J. Brindley, who said the announcement scared the town of 8,400 because “The newspaper has been there for everybody. . . .This almost had to happen for people to see how valuable this paper is and how much they did to serve this community. . . . It was a big wake-up call!”

Screenshot of Editor & Publisher "vodcast," online here.
Brindley, who has been mayor for three months, said he knows the paper is supposed to be a check on power, and he doesn't mind that: "They know what's going on, they see what's going on; I encourage that . . . They've always been honest and good people . . . The paper is a huge asset to this community." When Blinder asked if the paper be "put on a pedestal" to get community support, Brindley said yes: "The citizens need to contribute to this. We do need to put it on a pedestal . . . If you don't tell them the news, they're gonna make up their own news . . . We've got to rally behind the paper more than ever . . . I really respect what the paper does and understand more now what it means to the community."

Brindley said he is 36, and "A lot of people my age might not get the paper . . . Sometimes they look at the wrong things," such as social media. "I believe in the newpaper with everything I have."

Giles County (Wikipedia)
Stewart, who started as a reporter at the Citizen in 1995, said, "A lot happened in that one week . . . I wasn't in a good place as far as the community, because I thought they were letting us down, and maybe we were letting them down some too."

Gould, asked why he is in a business that is getting more difficult, said "I do love local community journalism . . . These communities need us," for the government-watchdog function and to "bring the community together."

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