'Know bodies' read the paper
April 17, 2019
Nobody reads the paper.
While this statement, for the most part, seems to be made without any ill intent—it doesn’t reduce the sting to those who work for a newspaper. It is no secret that the industry has been having a very public struggle for the past several years. On the national level, newspapers across the United States have either merged or closed for good.
According to a report from the University of North Carolina Center for Innovation & Sustainability in Local Media, “The Expanding News Desert,” 1,800 newspapers have shuttered between 2004 and 2018. The report goes on to state that nearly half of the 3,143 counties in the United States have only one newspaper, often a small weekly newspaper, that works to cover the various communities in the county. Nearly 200 counties, meanwhile, have no newspaper at all.
The closing of newspapers, especially in rural areas, has an overall negative affect beginning with civics. A recent paper published in Sage Journals entitled “Political Consequences of the Endangered Local Watchdog: Newspaper Decline and Mayoral Election in the United States” states that, without a strong local newspaper, far less people are engaged in the civic process and become less informed about local policies and elections. As a result, election turnout lowers as does those who run for public office.
This is a struggle that is not unfamiliar to both past and present staff of the Saratoga Sun, as well as other local newspapers. Growing up, I heard people ask, often rhetorically, why they should read the paper because they already knew what was happening by the time the paper came out. Even more recently, I’ve seen people make comments on social media that they feel they get more accurate news from local Facebook groups than the newspaper.
Despite this, every election year the Sun works to put out a comprehensive voter guide that informs readers of where candidates stand on important issues. The staff of the Sun also attends multiple town council meetings, budget workshops, school board meetings and more to ensure that our readers are as informed as they can be about local current events.
In the report “The Expanding News Desert,” it is estimated that readers of print in the past 15 years have declined from 122 million to 72 million. Unfortunately, this decline shows no sign of stopping as there has been a loss, nationwide, of 20 million subscribers in just the last four years. Most community newspapers, just like the Sun, still depend on print advertising and subscribers for much of their revenue. As fewer people advertise in their local paper, or subscribe to it, it becomes harder for that paper to function.
The Sun, as consistent readers have likely noticed, does its best to cover Saratoga, Encampment, Riverside, Hanna, Elk Mountain and Medicine Bow. We cover six of the eight communities in Carbon County, which is nearly 8,000 square miles in size, and we do this with two full-time reporters. Our editor will also take on the task of writing articles about one meeting or another or one event or another while our advertising representative will attend events and take photos.
Despite the overall bad news that the newspaper industry continues to be receiving, things don’t seem all bad.
While we occasionally may hear someone commenting that “nobody reads the paper,” it is far more often that we hear somebody commenting on an article in the paper, showing that people do, in fact, read it.
We’ve had coaches tell us how much their players enjoy seeing their name in print and we’ve had parents excited about their child’s photo in the paper. This is a major reason why we do our job. We care about our community and we want to do our best to represent it.
Obviously, the Sun has been spared from what has been going on both in the Mountain West and across the nation. Of the 1,800 papers that closed between 2004 and 2018, 516 of them were rural newspapers. Wyoming has, fortunately, fared better than other western states. While neighboring states like Utah, Colorado, Idaho and Montana have counties without any paper, the Cowboy State has at least one newspaper in all 23 counties. Carbon County is one of 14 counties that have two or more newspapers.
I doubt that the struggles of the newspaper industry will be ending anytime soon, and those struggles are many. Two-thirds of Americans get their news from social media, overall trust in the news has been declining since the Watergate Scandal, many newspapers on the national level are owned by corporations that care more about the bottom line than local news and cost cutting measures for many newspapers begin with laying off journalists. In 2018, the Denver Post cut 30 jobs from its newsroom and the Missoula Independent was shut down without notice given to employees.
I can’t say if there’s a light at the end of the tunnel for the industry as a whole. If there is, it’s likely still a long distance off. If you’re reading this, however, then you read the paper—and we at the Sun appreciate that. I hope that you continue reading the paper, whether in print or online, and that you renew your subscription. If you want to make sure that the Sun continues, talk to others about subscribing.
As long as there are readers who want to be informed, we will continue writing.