Tuesday, June 9, 2009

what's to become of local newsweeklies?

As I've mentioned elsewhere on this blog, I spent a handful of years as a print newspaper reporter. This was in the early years of this decade, before new media platforms posed the obvious and significant threat we're seeing locally, nationally, and internationally. Interestingly, though, two of the papers I worked for at the time--the Fenton Independent and the Holly Herald--folded during my tenure despite the dearth of new media technologies. The complex set of pressures that resulted in their closure exemplify the difficulties of keeping a local paper open even without too much competition. But that's a story for another day.

During those years, my editor was one Phillip Allmen, who currently runs the Milford Times, a print newsweekly owned by Hometown Communications, a local news conglomerate owned by Gannett, a larger news conglomerate. As a former employee of this group, I've been following the impact of the social revolution on these newspapers. Nothing drives home the thorniness of this issue like seeing a good editor and great reporter--Phil is both of these things--struggle to keep his newspaper and his job viable. On June 4, the Milford Times ran this editorial:

As many may have heard, the Observer & Eccentric closed its West Bloomfield, Troy, Rochester, Southfield and Mirror newspapers, with their final publication on May 31.

The Birmingham Eccentric was also on that list, but was revived to a once-a-week paper, after a groundswell of community support and pledges to boost subscriptions and advertising for that edition. It remains a “wait and see” proposition, but the company is willing to give it a try.

A South Oakland Eccentric paper will cover Southfield, Royal Oak, Ferndale and other south central Oakland County communities. The paper will be published on Sundays.

Many people are shocked and dismayed by the loss of the local papers. Many readers of the Milford Times have expressed relief that our paper remains open.

But, it can only survive with the support of the community.

We view the Times' long-standing relationship with the Huron Valley community a partnership. We depend on local advertising and home delivery subscriptions to survive. The community depends on the Milford Times to inform people about all aspects of the Huron Valley, from stories that affect neighborhoods and taxes to spreading the word about fund-raisers, special events and incredible people who do incredible things.

The Milford Times is the county's oldest, continuously published weekly newspaper. We've been around since 1871.

Just as we've promoted the “buy local” concept, in an effort to push local consumers to locally owned stores, we're urging folks to invest, to engage, in the Milford Times. Advertising budgets are tight, we know, and household budgets are also tight, but if we support each other, we'll make it through.

Here's what you can do to help the Milford Times. Urge merchants to advertise. Patronize local merchants who do advertise. Don't forget to tell merchants that you saw their ad in the Milford Times.

Purchase an annual subscription to the paper. The newspaper industry is in transition with print and online editions. But that transition is incomplete as newspapers search for a successful business model that will help sustain local information on the web. So if you read us free online that's fine, but it's important to pay for the print subscription — that's the only way we can afford to sustain that hyper-local Web site.

Each and every issue of the Milford Times contains items that support local causes, local events, local people. We're here to shine the light on the good, to evoke conversations, to support local businesses and to provide a forum for healthy debate on local issues that affect you. We want to be around for many years to come. You can help.

For subscription information, call (866) 887-2737 or for local advertising, call Sue Donovan at (517) 375-1369.

Readers of this blog know I'm fond of the Clay Shirky axiom that "it's not a revolution is nobody loses." In this case, local newspapers--and the communities that rely on it--are big potential losers. As Nieman Journalism Lab Director Joshua Benton pointed out in a recent BBC interview (lol I was part of the conversation too), the decline of print journalism means nobody's going to cover school board issues, community meetings, city council convenings and local elections.

I suspect Joshua and Phillip are right--I suspect that the loss of community newspapers will shift how, when, and why local events get covered. I'm at a loss here. I'd love to know what others think.

1 comment:

Melissa said...

Why can't things like school board issues, community meetings, city council convenings and local elections be covered online? If the coverage is moving to online forums, why can't local news do that too?

Maybe local news outlets don't have as many resources to push their online agenda as larger media outlets do, but they should still make the same jump toward a different, more dynamic economic model, right? And it doesn't mean local pamphlets and handouts won't still exist. It's possible this may trigger a resurgence in that sort of local, grassroots organization, while at the same time witness the rather impressive way in which online forums can bring a group of people together.


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