RIP Havelock News: 1986-2020. A small, community weekly newspaper, the Havelock News, has bit the dust. It stopped publication after its Dec. 3 edition. It’s another nail in the coffin of local media.

And it’s not the only weekly paper to go silent. Poynter.org reported in the Dec. 18, 2020, edition of the magazine The Week, “During the past 16 years, thousands of newspapers across the US – most of them weeklies – have shut down, with the losses growing during the pandemic.  Research shows that when the lone provider of local news in a community is lost, voter participation sinks and taxes rise.”

I wrote a bimonthly opinion column for the Havelock News for almost 20 years. It’s hard not to miss stepping up on that soapbox every other week.  

Change is hard. Still, we might agree that, overall, change is positive … that change has advanced humanity. It’s hard to find positives, though, with print media’s uncontrolled dwindling. It’s too early to tell what the rise in social media and the demise of local newspapers will mean for our democratic republic, a form of government founded on the need for an educated, knowledgeable, electorate and a widely available and free press. But we should care that caring is one victim of local media’s demise.

An old but wise communication adage is that caring is a communication skill. One issue certain to affect us is caring or actually, rather, lack thereof. Many are talking more now about caring, whether it’s kindness, civil discourse or politeness, but with the demise of local papers we’re losing an essential aspect of how we care. Social media cares less about local issues than local newspapers, papers mostly employing local reporters, writers and editors. Like the Tideland News.

It’s just natural. How does one really care about a town like Swansboro if one doesn’t live in or nearby it? How can one care about local sports teams or local politics or local taxes or the obituaries of neighbors if one doesn’t live anywhere near the locality … is not impacted in the least by what goes on in the community? The hard truth is one doesn’t care.

Adrienne LaFrance, the executive editor of The Atlantic, in a Dec. 15, 2020, article entitled Facebook Is a Doomsday Machine wrote, “The pre-social web destroyed classified ads, but the one-two punch of Facebook and Google decimated local news and most of the magazine industry. No news organization can compete with the megascale of the social web. It’s just too massive.”

I don’t know if Ms. LaFrance is right or not about Facebook and Doomsday; young people tend to speak in hyperbole far more than I. But uncaring social media, in general, has certainly been hard on local media.

According to a study by UNC’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media, “In only two decades, successive technological and economic assaults have destroyed the for-profit business model that sustained local journalism in this country for two centuries. Hundreds of news organizations have vanished. By early 2020, many survivors were hanging on by the slimmest of profit margins. Then, the coronavirus hit.” The study continues, “In the 15 years leading up to 2020, more than one-fourth of the country’s newspapers disappeared, leaving residents in thousands of communities – inner-city neighborhoods, suburban towns and rural villages – living in vast news deserts.”

A few facts shared in the study:

• Since 2004, the United States has lost 70 dailies and more than 2,000 weeklies or nondailies.

• At end of 2019, the United States had 6,700 newspapers, down from almost 9,000 in 2004.

• Today, more than 200 of the nation’s 3,143 counties and equivalents have no newspaper and no alternative source of credible and comprehensive information on critical issues. Half of the counties have only one newspaper, and two-thirds do not have a daily newspaper.

• Many communities that lost newspapers were the most vulnerable – struggling economically and isolated.

“The universe is made of stories, not of atoms,” according to poet and activist Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980). If the universe is made of stories, especially local ones that have – or should have – the most actual meaning to the reader or listener, then distant, uncaring, social media … and even writers and editors of surviving papers who live far away from the regions, cities and towns about which they’re writing or editing for that matter … well, social media is silencing the universe.

And if indeed, “All politics is local,” as Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill is credited with saying, that means we deeply need the Tideland (and the Havelock News and the Carteret County News-Times) and a host of other papers that are either challenged or are gone (like the Jones Post and the Beaufort Gam, you name them).

If it seems as if I’m shamelessly promoting our local, weekly paper, the Tideland News, you’re right. For the Tideland to survive, we must support it with our subscriptions.

This is one of those few either-ors in life. It’s black or white. Either we support the Tideland or it, too like the Havelock News, will be gone. Am I biased? You’re damn right I am. The Tideland reports the local issues I am (and should be) – as a local – most concerned about. And if you’ll forgive me for lecturing just a bit, so should you.

Tideland News contributor Barry Fetzer writes from his home on Queens Creek.

(7) comments

drewski

Time marches on, schools for the most part have done away with text books, everything is online. Libraries are cutting budgets and closing as well, esp in cash starved municipalities. Perhaps the age of the printed word has past? Online newspapers if they can survive may be the only future for local news.

Personally I much prefer a book to a tablet, but reality is a tablet can hold 10,000 books.

mpjeep

If newspapers, especially our local paper, ever fade away, I can assure you we will be extremely disappointed.

And with the possibility of our newspapers losing ad revenue from public notices, it’s certainly in the realm of possibilities.

With the advent of 24-hour cable news and the Internet, newspapers have been in the midst of a dramatic decline in advertising and subscription revenue for the past fifteen-plus years, with a massive number of employee lay-offs occurring throughout the industry.

Newspapers just haven’t been able to capture the revenue streams from their websites as they have from ROP (run-of-press) advertising. According to The Poynter Institute, newspapers have lost three-quarters of their ad revenue in the past decade and public notices now provide a large portion of a community newspaper’s profitability.

Taking public notice ad revenue from newspapers will possibly allow government websites to have fewer eyes on the ball and leave folks less uninformed.

Nothing replaces our newspaper as a community bulletin board with their printed product and website. There’s no better way to notify/inform the public.

Yes, I’m passionate about newspapers, not necessarily national publications, but local community newspapers are invaluable and for $67 per year (News-Times), it’s a great buy and I urge everyone to subscribe.

mpjeep

There’s a bill in New York, that if passed, could eventually hit newspapers across the country. Just another expense that newspapers can not afford.

The NY Senate Bill 1185A would make newspapers responsible for recycling their paper products and packaging materials. (News & Tech - Dateline)

mpjeep

Come on folks, we get more than $67 worth of pleasure just opining on these discussion boards.

I actually think many in our community would be happy to support local journalism in and above purchasing a subscription.

Many metro newspapers around the country only allow a minimum number of views to their websites before requiring folks to pay (paymeters) for their product. But as publishers face budget shortfalls some news outlets have turned to their communities for financial support.

For example, The Anchorage Daily News raised $48,000, New Orleans Advocate/Times-Picayune raised $66,000, and The Tampa Bay Times raised $213,000 when they created opportunities for readers to make donations to support their journalism.

And many other types of online news sources and communication products ask for contributions to sustain their operation, as do some newspapers. But not The Carteret News-Times. I urge the good folks at the News-Times to add a “support journalism” button to their website and in their ROP product. You just don’t know unless you ask!

noitall

So books are going, going, gone? But books are not politically correct, and that will not change. In the meantime unreported news and politically correct news spin and associated pc censorship have already killed newspapers. Network TV is next. Hard copy books will be around forever. FOREVER! I still read books - sometimes over and over and always enjoy and find something new. Private schooling will be the survivor - unless they dump history or burn books. Just finished "What Would Machiavelli Do?" by David Bing. "1493" by Mann covers black, white, Indian history accurately. .History book will set you straight. David McCullough,, and always full documentation.

mpjeep

A Newspapers’ biggest expense is of course employees, but the second biggest expense is newsprint, which had a large 20 percent price increase in January 2021 and an expected 10 percent increase later this year.

And most major ink suppliers have been hit with price increases from their suppliers that they will pass on to newspaper publishers.

With rising expenses, it’s easy to see that Gross Profits continue to fall in the newspaper industry.

Publishers are continuously reviewing their processes and practices for optimization to keep operations costs as lean as possible.

As you know, not too long ago our local paper went from a 3-day a week publication to two days a week in an effort to reduce expenses.

In 2019, they outsourced their Morehead City printing and packaging operation to Greenville, NC. The move did reduce the web width of the paper which helped reduce newsprint cost some and they were able to add color capacity in an effort to increase color advertising revenue, but running a newspaper these days is a struggle and “daily” eye to the bottom line.

David Collins

If there is a need , someone will fill it .

Welcome to the discussion.

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