With the unusually chilly weather in recent days, it would seem a good time for a candid fireside discussion, dear reader.
Particularly in light of last week’s announcement of the pending closing of the Kingsville Record and Bishop News newspaper on Dec. 5.
Owned and published by the King Ranch, the newspaper is in its 113th year. It has been an honor for Beeville Publishing Company to print it for nearly a decade since the Record closed down its own printing presses.
Reading the comments on its Facebook page, it’s clear that the readers loved it and are astounded that their newspaper is going away. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that 71 percent of Americans think their local news outlets are doing “very” or “somewhat” well financially.
For those who pay attention to the industry, it’s surprising, but not surprising, at the same time. The newspaper business model is expensive to produce. The King Ranch has lost money on the Record for years, so God bless them for trying to provide a news source for Kingsville and Bishop.
But no one is in business to lose money in perpetuity. Since 2004, some 1,800 newspapers nationwide have closed entirely, according to the University of North Carolina. Roughly 20 percent of Americans live now without a local newspaper. In Texas, some 25-30 counties will likely have no newspaper by 2020.
In rural counties, having no newspaper means having no independent, dependable news source.
Notes an April article on www.governing.com, “The internet and social media have exacerbated these trends. More and more people are relying on tweets and headlines for their news. National outlets are crowding out local coverage.”
The globalization of news is detrimental to the sense of community. If all political discussion is reduced to tweets and memes, the gray area where commonality resides is lost.
“The more obvious implications of newspaper closures are that residents are becoming less informed about the issues that affect them most and less engaged with local government,” says Johanna Dunaway, professor of communications at Texas A&M University.
The mere presence of a reporter at a governmental meeting can often keep discussions civil. There’s a reason the nation’s founders made freedom of speech and freedom of the press part the First Amendment. Ours is a system built on checks and balances. The press was intended to be an independent watchdog for the people.
As noted in the governing.com article, “Other studies have found more blows to civic health when newspapers close – from declining citizen engagement to increased corruption and declining government performance. Last year, a Brookings Institution paper found that municipal borrowing costs rose by 5 to 11 basis points (or about a 20th to a 10th of a percent), costing the average local government an additional $650,000 per bond issue.”
Several years ago, we had the opportunity to visit with a city manager for a small California city that had lost its newspaper five years prior. He candidly admitted he never thought he’d miss the questions from a reporter, but governing without a newspaper was ugly.
Replacing the reporter now were multiple bloggers with agendas to push with not even an attempt made to find the facts. Local democracy was the ultimate victim.
So, dear reader, you may be asking, “What does this mean for my newspaper and my community?”
First off, know that we love it when people refer to “my newspaper” – even when they’re marching into our offices red-faced and angry at something we printed – because we appreciate the bond between our readers and our publications. We doubt anyone has ever marched into a television station carrying their TV set.
The Atkins-Latcham family is in our 125th year of community newspaper publishing, and we figured out long ago we don’t “own” the newspaper. We’re simply the keepers of the light for our communities and entrusted to do the best we can to get all sides of an issue.
As a group of five newspapers serving seven counties, we have flexibility to make adjustments that an individual paper may not have. You’ve seen us combine some smaller papers to gain efficiencies in Goliad, Refugio and San Patricio counties. You’ve seen us return the Beeville Bee-Picayune from a twice-a-week publication to a weekly.
These aren’t always popular moves for all readers and are decisions not made lightly, but they give us efficiencies to keep a paper going so that there is a newspaper serving your community. Our readership in print and online is strong, but subscriptions don’t begin to pay the freight, and local news websites don’t either.
This year, we’re easily seeing way more than 100,000 unique visitors a month online at our website, www.mysoutex.com. Those are crazy good numbers for a local website, and if we could charge $1 for each per month for access, we’d be expanding our newsrooms. But the nature of the internet is no one wants to pay.
You have to be global online to monetize it and global is the antithesis of community journalism.
So what can readers do to support your local newspaper?
Certainly, buying it on the rack or subscribing helps. But maybe more so, shop with and support our advertisers who make possible your right to know. Thank them for caring about the community.
The biggest, smartest retailers in our communities see the value of local newspapers and run with us. Walmart and H-E-B aren’t dummies when it comes to marketing. They know how to reach their communities and even the region.
If you have a business, let’s talk about how we can fit into your marketing plan and budget. We are committed to your success and your community’s success.
So while some may shrug their shoulders at the closing of the Record, just understand that the bell tolling in the distance, it tolls for thee.