By Michael Showell
What is a community weekly newspaper?
Since childhood, I have been fascinated by newspapers. My career began at age 12 delivering the newspaper before school and continued through high school. When it became time to get a job to support my family, it was working for large daily newspapers in California and Texas. When I could no longer stand being away from the mountains, I moved back to West Virginia and purchased my first community weekly newspaper in 1993.
It has been a privilege to have my life’s work revolve around something that I believe has intrinsic value. As long as I could support my family, that was enough. It was always a struggle but when the 2008 financial crisis hit, it was almost too much. Counterintuitively, I doubled down and began purchasing additional community weekly newspapers, betting that scale and diversity would allow me to make it all work.
Now, I own and operate 14 newspapers. All this has allowed me to come to know newspapers at a deep level. I understand what they bring to the community that they operate in and what is lost when they are gone, as is happening all across the country.
My goal is to focus in a way that continues to gives the newspapers a reason to exist. They must add value to their communities by offering a window and a mirror into and of the people, places, and organizations that exist in their counties and towns. They must also be able to survive financially through the support of local advertisers and subscribers.
It is a challenge utilizing limited resources to attract and keep great people to write stories, cover meetings, work with advertisers, produce and distribute a community weekly newspaper. The values that our product demonstrates, must be the same values we demonstrate to the people who make the paper a reality.
The world is changing at an ever-faster rate than at any time in recorded human history. It used to be that many communities had multiple newspapers that created competition that led to better news coverage. Today, it is rare that even two newspapers can financially survive in the same county or town.
The internet has enabled communication to take place in many different ways and newspapers are no longer the dominant media that people use to get information. Newspapers have become a niche media, appealing to a specific type of person who has a deep interest in and value for the place they live.
Many people rely on Facebook to get information and it is great at communicating ideas and information. In many instances that information was first reported in a newspaper. Often, however, it is subjective information or even manipulated to influence a hidden agenda. One of the most important responsibilities of newspapers is to be objective by reporting the established facts thereby allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions.
Citizens are better served if they are aware of the actions of their county, city and town’s government bodies. Raising our children is one of our most important responsibilities we have, and we need to keep abreast of what is happening in the school system and the decisions of the school board. Churches and clubs need to let nonmembers know what they are doing and get the message out of their inner circles. Businesses need a place to communicate what they have to offer in a way that is informative but not obtrusive. Communities are enhanced by reporting on the people, places, and things that surround them, giving them better insight into where they live. Additionally, having a format that is clearly separated from the news sections of the paper and monitored by the Editor, where opinions and ideas can be expressed gives tremendous value to everyone.
Today, a newspaper can be read in print, on a tablet, a computer or a phone. Although I still prefer to hold the printed edition in my hands, I also find it convenient to read the paper in its digital format. Either way, the paper is presenting some of the most objective news and information that can be found.
The one thing we can all be sure about is that things will change. Newspapers must learn to adapt to the world as it goes through an unprecedented level of transition. They must maintain their core values which is what gives them a reason to exist. In doing so, they can help us all navigate through our times with knowledge and understanding of the places we live.