The death watch on my chosen profession

Each week, between two and three newspapers shut down and never print again

More than 50 years ago,I answered an ad for a reporting job at a daily newspaper in the St. Louis metropolitan area on a Friday afternoon. The managing aditor asked me to fly out to see him on Monday for an interview. After a two hour interview, He offered me a job at $55 more a week than i was making at The Roanoke Times.

That was the newspaper business in those days. Jobs were available almost at whim. My daughter graduated from Southern Illinois University with a degree in journalism in the 1990s but could not find a job in the profession, even with top grades and a good file of clips. So she went back to school, tried working for a city government, returned to school again and became a lawyer.

The profession that has consumed much of my life over the past 60+ years was in decline when she wanted to work in the business two decades ago. Last year, an average of 2.5 newspapers in America shut down and the rate of closures is increasing.

Reports The Associated Press, a news service I’ve worked with off and on over the oast six decades:

At its current pace, the country will hit 3,000 newspapers closed in two decades sometime next year, with just under 6,000 remaining, the report said. At the same time, 43,000 newspaper journalists lost jobs, most of them at daily publications, with the advertising market collapsing.

“My concern is that the acceleration that we’re seeing is only going to worsen,” says Tim Franklin, who runs the local news initiative at Northwestern’s Medill journalism school.

The loss of newspapers is often felt in rural counties, where a weekly provided the local news, especially high school sports, along with court news and obituaries. Since retiring to Floyd County, where I worked for The Floyd Press in high shcool, I have tried to help the paper by covering the county’s Circuit Court and shoot photos of high school athletics.’

Like far too many small newspapers, the Press is a shell of what it once was. It has just one employee — Editor Abby Whitt, who works long, hard hours with little support or gratitude. The county owes her a lot for keeping the paper running.

The Floyd Press gave me a home when I was a high school student from 1962-65. Pete Hallman, the owner and editor back in the 1960s taught me a lot about writing stories and dovering news. His wife, Ruth, was my English and Journalism teacher at Floyd County High School and Pete pushed the then State Editor of The Roanoke Times to hire me right out of high school to become the paper’s youngest full time reporter and photographer.

When I came back to Floyd County in 2004 after 40 years of covering news around the world as a reporter and photojournalist, Press Editor Wanda Combs asked me to shoot sports photos for the paper, then also cover the courts and the county board of supervisors. Thoughts of retirement disappeared for many of the past 20 years. It was a return home.

But what is happening here is multiplied around the nation.

Northwestern;s Medil says 204 counties in the United States no longer have any local source for news. The AP report continues:

Few media outlets are immune from financial concerns. The Washington Post said last month it needed to cut 240 jobs through voluntary buyouts, the website Jezebel said last week that it was closing, NPR is laying off employees, and The Associated Press this week began soliciting donations from readers.

The problems of local news, however, are like a slow drip that has affected every corner of the country.

The Recorder, covering Bath, Highland and Alleghany counties in Virginia, was close to closing after more than 140 years when it doubled its subscription price to $99 in 2018. Readers stuck with it, and responded with donations to keep the newspaper afloat during the pandemic.

As age 76 with a addled brain that has suffered too many concussions over the years and a shopworn body that is searing out, I have often wondered iif I wiol outive my chosen profession.

It looks like a close race.

© 2004-2022 Blue Ridge Muse

1 thought on “The death watch on my chosen profession”

  1. I took another route out of the newspaper biz , by teaching journalism. And for the past 15 years, before and after retirement, I have been tempted to offer to do some writing for the understaffed and underpaid local Radford paper, following your model at the Floyd Press.

    Instead I write on three intermittent blogs, one of them explicitly nostalgic about the newspaper business, and post a lot of stuff on Facebook and a little on twitter.

    My teaching career was mostly thanks to a former managing editor who told me he thought I would be a good journalism teacher, and wrote me a letter of recommendation for PhD programs. He didn’t have any graduate degrees in journalism, as far as I know, but he eventually became a newspaper editor and publisher and head of the Associated Press managing editors association. I later saw his grad school recommendation letter for me, and one of the things he thought would impress the admission committee was my self-deprecating sense of humor. I think pretending I had a “can do attitude” might have been a better endorsement than a revelation of my basic insecurity. But I did get accepted into more than one grad school, and pick the one I thought was the best, at a university that was strong in journalism and information science and computer science.

    But none of my PhD professors saw a way to rescue the newspaper industry from its Decline and fall at the hands of outdated business practices and a lack of vision. I didn’t have any answers myself, that’s for sure. One of the professors who came closest was Philip Meyer at the University of North Carolina. I’ve been tempted to go back and look at the last edition of his book, The Vanishing Newspaper, which I recall made a tongue in cheek prediction of the exact week that the last newspaper reader would buy the last newspaper, based on statistical models. Or maybe that prediction was just in a speech he made that got quoted in the newspapers. Whatever the date was, I wonder if we will both live that long! Or maybe his prediction was wrong and the date has already passed. It would really be something special if it was the first week of November 2023, when Phil Meyer passed away at the fine age of 93.
    Come to think of it, the University of Connecticut journalism professor most responsible for my newspaper career lived to be 91. So we both may have a decade or two left, Doug!

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