“Ava still has a newspaper?”
I’m quoting myself here.
That was my response when a friend suggested I could “work for the newspaper.”
I’d seen the population listed on the sign posted at the city limits. I’d driven through the square.
I thought of our newspaper back home. Holland, Michigan has a population of around 34,000 people. The city sits in Ottawa County, which has a population of over a quarter-million. Jobs are plentiful. The housing market is hopping. Roads are busy. Empty retail buildings are rare.
But the newspaper?
Sold in the 1980’s to a conglomerate that owned a number of newspapers. That company recently merged with another of its ilk, creating a corporate monstrosity that owns 500 newspapers in 47 states.
Over the years the paper physically shrank in size and reduced its publishing schedule from daily to 4x a week. The number of local employees shrank.
But worse, without local ownership and local management, the paper lost relevance. It lost heart. It became a shell of its former self.
Having seen that happen to our hometown newspaper, I had low expectations for the Douglas County Herald.
I assumed the story was the same as back in Holland, but on a smaller scale. An outside corporation had come to town, purchased the paper, sold off the building and presses, fired most of the staff, and the skeleton that remained was generated by one or two overworked people from a small crowded office.
I assumed – like our Holland paper – the Herald had lost relevance and heart.
I picked up a copy.
I hadn’t seen a local newspaper that wide in years. A spy could still properly hide behind it.
And two sections? With local content?
I was shocked.
Researching the Herald’s ownership it started to make sense.
Still, after all these years.
It makes me wonder.
Do you realize that means someone said no?
No to a big check. No to the opportunity to cash out and move to the Bahamas. No to using that money for retirement, paying off the house, or putting kids through college.
It was probably multiple someones. And multiple nos.
As a result, Ava and Douglas County still has something other cities and other counties would love to have.
A locally owned and operated newspaper.
In many other places, someone got that buyout offer and said yes.
According to a recent report from PEN, “Since 2004, over 1,800 newspapers have closed, leaving more than three million people with no newspaper at all, and more than at least a thousand have become ‘ghost newspapers’ with little original reporting.”
What happens when a newspaper closes?
Some people lose their jobs, sure.
But a community also becomes less of a community.
No media shows up for the school board meetings. Or the city council meetings.
With no one holding them accountable, the opportunity for bad decisions, fraud, or corruption from publicly elected officials increases.
Fewer candidates run for office. Voter turnout decreases.
And there are financial impacts.
According to an article published on CityLab.com, “Without investigative daily reporters around to keep city hall accountable, three years after a newspaper closes, that city or county’s municipal bond offering yields increased on average by 5.5 basis points, while bond yields in the secondary market increased by 6.4 basis points—statistically significant effects.”
They went on to say “It might cost taxpayers a lot more in the long run to lose a local daily than it would to subscribe to one.”
Here’s the challenge for us as a news provider.
According to a recent study by Pew research, most people (71%) think their local news sources are doing well financially, but only 14% of them said they had paid for local news in the last year.
You can imagine what those numbers mean for us as a business.
I joined the Herald about a year ago. During my tenure here I’ve gotten an overwhelming number of positive comments about my contributions (thank you, by the way).
So here’s my challenge to you, dear readers. If you appreciate the improvements you are seeing in the Herald, and you aren’t currently a subscriber, will you consider becoming one?
And if you do subscribe, please consider purchasing a subscription as a gift for someone who doesn’t.
Subscriptions start at $19/year.
Help keep local news local. Help prevent Ava and Douglas County from becoming a “news desert” with no spotlight kept on local government. Help us keep telling the stories of Ava and Douglas County.