Weekly newspapers close as economy sours

by Peter Weinberger | pweinberger@claremont-courier.com

The story is the same all across the country. Local community newspapers continue to merge, purge or simply disappear, as the nation’s economy continues its freefall from Covid-19. The real losers are the residents in small town America, as local news deserts become far too common.

Weekly newspapers rely largely on advertising revenue from local businesses. When these businesses close under the huge weight of the coronavirus, so does the revenue stream for local newsrooms. Even merging to maximize limited staff only dilutes the coverage as budgets are slashed.

Imagine if the COURIER merged with the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin? Do you think coverage of Claremont news would be impacted? Of course it would. So just imagine this scenario happening all over the country.

Yet I strongly believe the future remains bright for the COURIER because of the incredible support from the Claremont community. We are very fortunate. But the road to financial health is not an easy one, with most newsrooms suffering huge losses.

Of the 1,800 newspapers that have closed since 2004, a total of 1,700 are weeklies. This being said, I will announce good news for the COURIER next week in this column.

It’s no secret the COURIER reduced staff two months ago because of a 40 percent drop in revenue. We were able to secure grants, but the long term solution is changing our business model to adapt to a changing economy. I anticipate making new hires in the near future, but the job positions will be much different.

What’s maddening about this entire dilemma, is readership is stronger than ever. And that’s the case with newspapers across the country.

Like the COURIER, many of these local newspapers grew up with their communities. The COURIER was founded just months after Claremont was incorporated in 1907. The Journal-Express in Knoxville, Iowa was founded by a Civil War veteran who was friends with Abraham Lincoln. Now the newspaper is simply a single web page after merging with a competitor. The same happened to the Edmond Sun in Edmond, Oklahoma.

Paul Dragu, former owner of The Harve Herald in Montana, said it perfectly. “Idealism, a sense of purpose, lots of volunteer hours, opportune side gigs, and the backing of our wonderful supporters and advertisers got us this far. But then a pandemic hit, the world changed, and a news organization’s uphill battle to sustainability became immensely steeper.”

The Lake Preston Times in South Dakota was founded in 1881. After its closure, the community tried one last time to save the business to no avail.

A sampling of local newsrooms closing include The Bland Courier from Bland, Missouri, The Belle Banner in Belle, Missouri, and The Pittsburg Catholic from Pennsylvania, which was founded way back in 1844. There are now more than 20 weekly newspapers that have purged or merged since the pandemic began just two months ago.

You may have also noticed these are isolated small towns in need of local news to connect and inform residents. There is no plan B, so the loss of these weeklies really impact small-town life. There is a long list of newspapers that have been impacted by Covid-19 posted on our website.

If you want to help the COURIER or any community newspaper/website, subscribing is the most direct way readers can contribute. We also have other options with premiere memberships and direct donations that can be found on our subscription page.


Claremont Heritage Gala a big hit

I personally wanted to thank the staff at Claremont Heritage for honoring the COURIER during their streaming gala broadcast on Saturday.

Heritage also honored John Dominguez with the Bess Garner Preservation Award for his involvement in helping to preserve many of the homes in Claremont, as well as for his part in nominating the Intercultural Council Housing in Arbol Verde to the national register in 2010.

Tributes to the late Chris Darrow and Norma Tanega were shown. The two artists and musicians are founding inductees of the Treasury of Claremont Music archive project.

Forced to stream the gala because of social distancing orders, Heritage produced what I consider to be a variety show that was entertaining from beginning to end. I especially enjoyed the old clips of TV shows that used Claremont as a location. We have a story with far more detail inside today’s edition.


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