Do you care who owns the local paper? You probably know – and I’ve written here before – about the precarious state of community journalism and newspapers across the country, especially in smaller communities like Moore County.
In the past 15 years, as advertising dollars have moved to digital platforms and ownership has consolidated in a handful of companies, many newspapers have become a shadow of themselves, working with 10 percent of their former employees. Hundreds just closed.
Penny Abernathy, a former UNC Chapel Hill professor, now at Northwestern University, created a groundbreaking collection of research and publications on the subject and coined the terms “news deserts” and “ghost papers”.
Things have gotten so bad in some cities that local officials have asked for a report. The New York Times recently reported from New Bedford, Massachusetts Mayor Jon Mitchell, who said, âWe don’t have a working newspaper anymoreâ¦ I used to be unable to sneeze without explaining. Now I have to ask people to come to my press conferences. Please ask me questions! “
People literally do not know what is going on in their schools, government, clubs and churches. You don’t even know who died.
For the past several years, news professionals have tried to fight back in small ways.
These journalists, most of whom have been laid off or bought out due to downsizing, have come together within their communities to create news websites and newsletters.
These “alternative” sources often focus on a handful of important community topics for reporting, avoiding the staples like obituaries, community features, and local sports.
But sustainability is poor. These models are mostly based on grants, small donations, and targeted subscriptions. It’s not a solid long-term future.
I’m saying all of this to draw a line on a column that appeared on the cover of Pilot Editor David Woronoff last Sunday, July 4th. In this column he commented on his 25th anniversary as a publisher and reflected on how the newspaper – and this company – have changed and grown over the past quarter century.
I combine these two things because they are inextricably linked. Local personal responsibility, combined with entrepreneurial skill and creative thinking, is the key differentiating factor from everyone else.
Overall, Moore County is not much different from the communities whose newspapers have been decimated by large public companies and large private equity firms. These newspapers no longer have their own editors or publishers, and much of the back-end work like sales, accounting, and even design, as well as some news coverage, is grouped in distant corporate offices to save money. They are “community” newspapers in name only, and little more than a profit line to their owners.
Local ownership has given this community the Moore County Telephone Directory and PineStraw Magazine for the past 25 years. This kept The Country Bookshop from closing and instead growing into a thriving downtown business. Local owners continued to grow the business by expanding to other cities with market leading magazines. Meanwhile jobs were added.
And yes, as we have grown, so has our success. While the newspaper once made up 100 percent of the company’s turnover, it is now a quarter of that, although the newspaper itself has continued to grow over the years. As we’ve grown with your support, we have the resources to turn your pilot newspaper into a thriving community newspaper where officials don’t have to beg for attention, where nonprofits know they can get support where other business leaders know that they are a partner in efforts to improve this community.
As David said in his column, you can argue with this or that editorial position or selection of coverage. Know that there are many churches out there who want this option.
Moore County is as strong as it is because when it comes to a newspaper, local ownership makes all the difference for this community.
Do you care who owns the local paper? Very much so.