Recent Posts by Alex Dixon

North Carolina newspaper fights threat of “news deserts”

"North Carolina newspaper fights threat of 'news deserts'" by Madison Forsey for Media Hub, Feb. 18, 2019

"The newspaper has historically been best suited to provide the individualized information that you may need in that community," Abernathy said. But with all the doom and gloom, Abernathy said one local paper is doing what it takes to evolve in the 21st century: The Whiteville News Reporter.

"North Carolina newspaper fights threat of 'news deserts'" by Madison Forsey for Media Hub, Feb. 18, 2019

"The newspaper has historically been best suited to provide the individualized information that you may need in that community," Abernathy said. But with all the doom and gloom, Abernathy said one local... -->

Threat of “news deserts” in North Carolina is changing the media landscape

"Threat of "news deserts" in North Carolina is changing the media landscape" by Mary Glen Hatcher for Media Hub, Feb. 18, 2019

“According to “The Expanding News Desert,” the situation in Whiteville is mirrored in roughly two-thirds of the counties in the U.S. that house the country’s remaining independent newspapers. These publications serve some of the most vulnerable members of society – rural, low-income residents who are often the most isolated, least educated, and least attractive to print advertisers.”

"Threat of "news deserts" in North Carolina is changing the media landscape" by Mary Glen Hatcher for Media Hub, Feb. 18, 2019

“According to “The Expanding News Desert,” the situation in Whiteville is mirrored in roughly two-thirds of the counties in the U.S. that house the country’s remaining independent newspapers.... -->

A hedge fund’s ‘mercenary’ strategy: Buy newspapers, slash jobs, sell the buildings

"A hedge fund's 'mercenary' strategy: Buy newspapers, slash jobs, sell the buildings" by Jonathan O'Connell and Emma Brown for The Washington Post, Feb. 11, 2019

"At the dozen Digital First publications represented by the NewsGuild, the number of union jobs has declined nearly 70 percent, from 1,552 in 2012 to 487 in 2018. University of North Carolina researchers found, based on 12 newspapers, that Digital First has cut staff at a rate more than twice the national average during that time. "

"A hedge fund's 'mercenary' strategy: Buy newspapers, slash jobs, sell the buildings" by Jonathan O'Connell and Emma Brown for The Washington Post, Feb. 11, 2019

"At the dozen Digital First publications represented by the NewsGuild, the number of union jobs has declined nearly 70 percent, from 1,552 in 2012... -->

No news is bad news

"No news is bad news" by Andrea Guzmán for The Texas Observer, Feb. 11, 2019

"'People just don’t interact and pay attention as much without a paper. And not that everybody bought a paper, but at least it was there,' said Kim Silhan, the mayor of Morton. Morton is among more than 1,300 communities across the country considered a news desert, according to an October report by University of North Carolina researchers. The UNC scholars found that 146 weekly newspapers and 14 dailies have closed in Texas since 2004 — half of them in rural areas."

"No news is bad news" by Andrea Guzmán for The Texas Observer, Feb. 11, 2019

"'People just don’t interact and pay attention as much without a paper. And not that everybody bought a paper, but at least it was there,' said Kim Silhan, the mayor of Morton. Morton is among... -->

The State of Rural Journalism

 
For thousands of rural communities across the U.S., the local newspaper is the prime, if not sole, source of credible and comprehensive news and information. The University of Kentucky’s Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues assists rural journalists and news organizations in producing strong reporting and commentary around national issues, such as the opioid crisis and health care, that have significant local impact. Director and veteran journalist Al Cross has run the Institute for nearly 15 years, and oversees the Rural Blog, a digital digest of national events, trends and journalism from and about rural America. Here’s Cross take in an edited interview with the Woodford (Kentucky) Sun News on the state of rural and community journalism.
What’s the state of community journalism these days?

It is always important to distinguish journalism from the news business, which pays for journalism (through advertising and subscriptions). Here’s a bad indicator on the current state of the news business: The main organization of community newspapers in this country (the National Newspaper Association) had a big drop in membership this year, and suffered a big financial loss as a result. They attributed that to the increase in (newsprint) tariffs. The prospect of an increase prompted newspaper owners to cut expenses, and the first expense to go is membership a national organization that you may not think is doing you much good. But, in fact, the National Newspaper Association mobilized the small newspapers of this country to go to talk to their members of Congress and the U.S. Commerce Department and say, “Look, this is an existential threat to us. You’re incurring a 20 to 30 percent price increase in our second-largest cost of business” (after salaries).

There have been about 1,300 largely small newspapers close in the last 15 years. These tend to be newspapers in non-county seat towns. … My general rule has been if a community is doing well, its community newspaper is probably doing OK. Many papers are suffering from digital erosion – people spending more time with digital media and social media than the printed newspaper, but even so, rural newspapers still reach an average of 40 percent of households in a community, which is better than any other medium.

What can a good community newspaper bring to the community?

It brings information of all types, from commercial information that people need about local businesses to information that serves democracy – information about local issues into which people need to have some input. A good community newspaper helps set the public agenda for the community; it makes residents in a community face up to the issues confronting them. I teach my students that a good newspaper does three things: It informs; it convenes – it has a public forum, an editorial page where people can contribute letters and longer pieces – and it leads. It doesn’t have to have an editorial in every edition or even most editions, but when the editor sees something that needs some insight, some leadership, from the newspaper, a good newspaper provides that insight – either through a traditional editor or a column from the editor or publisher.

How do you respond when someone says, ‘Nobody reads newspapers anymore’?

The readership in newspapers in the United States is just as great as it ever was. The problem is that newspapers are not getting paid for online access. Stories get shared on social media and people read news on these platforms for free. If you have a national platform like USA Today, the New York Times, the Washington Post and produce stories of national interest, then you can attract a large number of readers and can make money in the digital space.  But it’s really difficult for smaller newspapers to make money in the digital space because the stories they publish are usually of interest and relevant only to people who live in a specific county.

So what do you see as the future for community newspapers?

I think they’re going to be around for a long time. In some respects, a weekly newspaper is more like a magazine than a daily newspaper. It stays around the house for a week. People don’t feel like they have to read the whole thing at once. Advertisers appreciate that, too. The audience for community newspapers is a little older than average, so I think we’ll see print editions of community newspapers in this country for at least another 15 to 20 years, and probably longer.  On the other hand, I think you’ll find daily newspapers, such as the Lexington Herald-Leader and the Louisville Courier-Journal dropping some print days. A number of dailies around the country have already done that. It’s an erosion, it’s not a collapse.

It seems that journalists are under attack in an unprecedented way. When someone challenges your integrity or seems to believe that because you’re a journalist, you lean in one direction, what do you tell them?

Generally, I would say that most newspapers in this country are conservative. Just because the most prominent newspapers in this country have liberal editorial pages that doesn’t mean that most newspapers in this country are liberal. That’s just silly. People need to stop and consider the difference between the newspapers that the president and conservative critics attack and the newspapers that are published in their hometowns. They’re not the same. I think it’s important for people to understand what journalism is.

Journalism has done a bad job of defending its reputation. Journalism is being undermined by social media because people no longer know what to trust. People are inclined to believe what they want to believe, and they get all this information from an unverified source. There is no verification on social media. Journalism practices the discipline of verification. That is the essential difference between the news media and social media. The news media are about getting the facts and delivering them to the people so they can use them to make informed judgments about their role in a democracy.

 
For thousands of rural communities across the U.S., the local newspaper is the prime, if not sole, source of credible and comprehensive news and information. The University of Kentucky’s Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues assists rural journalists and news organizations in producing strong reporting... -->

Loss of newspapers contributes to political polarization

"Loss of newspapers contributes to political polarization" by David Bauder for AP, Jan. 30, 2019

"Among the other findings is less voter participation among news-deprived citizens in “off-year” elections where local offices are decided, Abernathy said. Another study suggested a link to increased government spending in communities where “watchdog” journalists have disappeared, she said."

"Loss of newspapers contributes to political polarization" by David Bauder for AP, Jan. 30, 2019

"Among the other findings is less voter participation among news-deprived citizens in “off-year” elections where local offices are decided, Abernathy said. Another study suggested a link to increased government spending in communities where... -->

The violence of the market

"The violence of the market" by Victor Pickard for Journalism, 2019

"But the most glaring manifestation of the market’s destruction of journalism is the sheer loss of jobs: the newspaper industry has been reduced by more than 50% since 2001 according to the U.S. bureau of labor statistics. Creating vast ‘news deserts’(Abernathy, 2016), newspaper closures, bankruptcies, and extreme downsizing are accelerated by ‘vulture capitalists’ swooping in to profit from the scraps (Reynolds, 2018)."

150 years of the Chattanooga Times Free Press spelled out in headlines

"150 years of the Chattanooga Times Free Press spelled out in headlines" by Davis Lundy for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Jan. 13, 2019

"The people who owned newspapers in Chattanooga understood that journalism is not just a way to make money, but a calling," Abernathy said. "It is a mission-driven enterprise where the primary mission is to produce the news and information that feeds our democracy."

The outlook for journalists

"The outlook for journalists" by Karen Egolf for Crain's NewsPro, January 2019

Abernathy says legacy media that want to succeed need to set up a five-year plan and focus on the individual needs of their communities while also investing in their employees, or “human capital.” “That means there’s not going to be one business model that works for all news organizations or newspapers or whether you’re digital,” she says. “We found that with legacy newsrooms as well as digital startups that they look to others to say what has been the model that works. So they often end up pursuing what worked in one market that’s not even appropriate to [their] market.”

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