By Len Robbins, Publisher
Many in our area were shocked when the owners of the Waycross Journal-Herald announced in September of last year that they planned to close our neighboring daily newspaper.
Thankfully, Rick Head, owner of the nearby Brantley Beacon, purchased the Journal-Herald and converted it to a weekly paper.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that this wasn’t an isolated incident that can be easily explained or dismissed. It smells more like a trend that’s just starting – and the COVID-19 pandemic is only escalating it.
I’m going to be blunt – Newspapers were struggling before the current crisis. I know we were. That’s why I wasn’t surprised to hear about the Journal-Herald’s predicament. In a story about their plans to close, the Journal-Herald cited competition from “Facebook, websites, data streaming, ‘marriage mail,’ TV, radio, and several other mediums,” as more “Americans and Waycrossans turned to cell phones to get their news.”
For different newspapers, the challenges are different. For us, it’s been an aging audience; a slow, brutal weakening of our local retail base; and national, and even some local, advertisers turning online; among other reasons.
We have tried, and are trying, to adapt to an online product, in addition to a print product. The News, for instance, was the first weekly newspaper in Georgia to offer online subscriptions. We’ve basically become a daily newspaper by reporting news online when it happens, and not waiting on the print edition. We’ve recently expanded into producing podcasts. We have put video of public meetings and community events on our website, and plan on expanding that. These are potential revenue streams that we’re exploring, and will continue to explore. We have the largest online following of any site in our community – we just need to find a way for all that attention to work for our customers, and, in turn, us.
Frankly, our community isn’t supporting its community newspaper like it did in the past. Our subscriptions have declined substantially annually, as has advertising from local businesses.
In addition, we’ve found that in recent years, the traditional billing methods we’ve utilized aren’t as effective as they used to be. In the past year, we’ve been fortunate if we collect 50 percent of what we bill in a month. In turn, that makes it incredibly difficult to pay our debts on time.
The reason I’m writing this isn’t to elicit sympathy. It pains me to admit that this newspaper that I care so much about, and committed my working life to, is struggling.
There are a couple of reasons I’m sharing our predicament publicly. They are: 1. When I became editor of this newspaper in 1994, 26 years ago, I wrote in this space that I was this newspaper’s latest “caretaker,” but the newspaper really belonged to the community. I still believe that, and as shareholders, you deserve to know how your newspaper is doing economically. And 2. When people heard the Journal-Herald was having issues, they were shocked, and “If I had known…” was a common refrain.
Well, now you know. If you believe having a newspaper that delivers trustworthy, verified information about your community is important, here’s some things you can do to help:
1. Purchase a subscription.
Right now, we are offering a special deal for online subscriptions – $20 a year. That’s $13 off the regular rate. And if you already have a subscription, you can always purchase a gift subscription for someone who lives outside of Clinch County but would enjoy keeping up with their hometown news. You can order print or online subscriptions at our website (www.theclinchcountynews.com) or by calling our office.
2. Purchase an ad.
Despite decreased numbers of subscribers, our newspaper still reaches more Clinch Countians than any other form of communication – and second place isn’t close. Fact is – newspaper advertising works. If you have a business, newspaper advertising isn’t an expense. It’s an investment. An investment in your business. Give us a call and let us help you tell your story and improve your bottom line.
3. Share with us what we can do better.
Give us your opinion about how we can better serve you, and our community, as its primary source of news and information. We welcome your input and creative ideas – remember, it’s YOUR NEWSPAPER. We want to hear any suggestions about how we can improve, or change our business model, to serve the future needs of the community and our readers.
If it already wasn’t apparent, the COVID-19 pandemic has clearly illustrated that small communities (and large ones too) need a local, independent news source they can trust and rely on to bring them credible, accurate information. The News is the only one providing this service for Clinch County, and have done so for the last 125 years. We’ve love to do it for another 125 years, but in order to survive, we need the community’s support.
Again, this newspaper belongs to the community – tell us how you’d like us to proceed.
© Len Robbins 2020