Who reports what happens when newspapers die?

“Newspapers have been dying in slow motion for two decades now,” writes Douglas McLennan and Jack Mles.  “A once unimaginable scenario has lately become grimly conceivable.”

In 1994, some 60 million Americans subscribed to daily newspapers.  Now, less than 35 million do and the past 24 years of decline is increasing.  Newsroom employment fell 40 percent in the same period and newsprint advertising revenue dropped from $65 billion in 2000 to under $19 billion in 2016.

That smaller circulation of 135 million newspaper readers includes digital readership.  Digital-savvy news operations like The Washington Post and The New York Times has large digital circulations and ad revenue to match but startups like BuzzFeed and Vice have missed revenue predictions.  The Huffington Post, now owned by America On-line, starting laying off staff members in the last quarter of 2018.

AOL, once a digital giant that took over Time Warner at its height, now struggles.  Same for Yahoo.

The Roanoke Times, where I worked as a reporter and photographer from 1965-69, had a larger staff and higher circulation 50 years ago than it has now.  Same for other Virginia newspapers like the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Classified ads, once an economic crutch for newspapers, are now found on Craig’s List and eBay.

I’m lucky to still work in newspapers, as a contract reporter and photographer for The Floyd Press, owned by billionaire Warren Buffett’s BH Media.  He also owns The Roanoke Times, The Times-Dispatch in Richmond, dailies in Lynchburg, Charlottesville and Bristol and many weeklies around the Commonwealth.  When time permits, I cover assignments for other newspapers.

Sadly, much of my work comes because of layoffs at such papers.  I come at a bargain price because I have Medicare and other retirement health insurance along with Social Security and other “retirement” income.

I love the work.  I also love the profession.  I’m a newspaperman, not a “journalist.”  Former Chicago newspaper columnist, and friend, Mike Royko once said “a journalist is an unemployed newspaperman.”  It’s less of a joke now than he wrote it more than 30 years ago.

I spent Monday afternoon sitting on a hard bench in the Floyd County Circuit Courtroom covering a grand larceny trial for this week’s edition of the Press.  I will spend more time in that same courtroom Tuesday covering the regular session of the court: Monday was the second trial that required a special day on Monday, which is normally not set aside for Circuit Court.

Last week’s assignments included the first of two scheduled meetings of the County Board of Supervisors, which meets on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month.  A photo assignment took me to the season opener for the Floyd County High School varsity softball team.  Those photos should appear in this week’s edition of the paper.

The supervisors are also meeting at other times this month for work on the county budget for the coming fiscal year, which begins on July 1.  A contract group of assessors are visiting county properties for new assessments for property taxes.  That will be a developing story over the next few months.

As newspapers fall by the wayside around the country, coverage of that news still exists.

Let’s hope we will still have the tools available to fill that need.

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