When it comes to business, there’s long been a theory that bigger is better. And we’ve seen that theory at work in recent years in the newspaper world as venture capital firms and larger …
When it comes to business, there’s long been a theory that bigger is better. And we’ve seen that theory at work in recent years in the newspaper world as venture capital firms and larger media organizations have bought up smaller newspapers by the hundreds.
We’ve seen that trend at work here in northern Minnesota, where companies like Forum Communications and Adams Publishing, have come to own the vast majority of newspapers throughout the region.
The consolidation of the industry may generate more revenue for corporate shareholders, but there’s little reason to believe that communities are being well-served by this trend. As we’ve seen at so many newspapers across the country, consolidation has meant job losses from the front office to the newsroom to the printing plant. In many cases, even small regional newspapers that once employed dozens, have been hollowed out to just a handful of staff. Newsrooms that once held a fleet of reporters and editors have become lonely outposts for an editor and a couple of part-time staff writers.
And given the latest shock to the industry posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the bloodletting has only intensified. In just the past month, we’ve seen the announcement that the Lake County News Chronicle, owned by a subgroup of Forum Communications, has ceased publication entirely. Meanwhile, Adams Publishing has announced that the Chisholm Tribune, once the voice of independent newspaper legend Veda Ponikvar, has been reduced to a weekly insert in the Hibbing paper.
Lost along the way is a tremendous amount of local news coverage. That’s not to fault the dedicated journalists who still fight the good fight at many of these consolidated newspapers. But there’s only so much a handful of people can cover. Which is why we’ve seen so many local newspapers rely increasingly on news wire and syndicated services, or shared content from other media, typically from within their own newspaper groups. They simply don’t have the time, or the corporate direction, to truly serve their communities.
Readers recognize those changes, and often respond by letting their subscriptions lapse. That reduces readership, which eventually reduces advertising, and the decline in revenue typically prompts the corporate accountants to push for further cuts, rather than reinvestment in staff to restore the news product. That, in turn, leads to further erosion in readership in a vicious cycle that is killing newspapers around the country.
This is one case where, sometimes, small and independent, can be a better choice for newspapers. Here at the Timberjay, we’ve gone against the grain of the industry in general. As most other newspapers have slashed newsrooms, we’ve invested in ours by adding experienced journalists. Far from relying on news wires or reprinting stories from other media, the Timberjay’s primary struggle is to find space for all the local staff-written content we generate each week.
We know that readers recognize the difference, because we hear from them every day. And while the COVID-19 shutdown has certainly had an impact on our business, with so many advertisers closed for business, we have taken steps to ensure that the Timberjay will continue to do the work of bringing accurate and professional news coverage to our region for a long time to come.
That’s not to say that we couldn’t use your help. In a media market that is more fractured than at any time in the past, many businesses are wondering where to place their advertising dollars. Letting local businesses who advertise in the Timberjay or other local media know that you see their ads and appreciate their support of high-quality local news coverage, helps them determine where their ad dollars are most effective. And it encourages them to continue advertising with independent, locally-owned businesses that are serving your community.
Finally, we greatly appreciate all of our loyal subscribers. And for those who might wish to make an additional contribution, we have placed a donation button on our website at timberjay.com. We’ve already received several extremely generous donations from readers across the region, for which we are exceedingly grateful. These are challenging times for local news. But we believe that newspapers that provide a real service to their communities will be the ones that survive the pandemic and the many other factors affecting local news organizations. We are committed to making sure that the Timberjay will continue to provide that service.