Bob Bestler

Why an increasing amount of people are being deprived of the ‘heartbeat of a town’

A man reads newspapers fronting U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at a newspaper stall Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019, in Hanoi. Trump and Kim cut short their second summit Thursday without reaching an agreement, a stunning collapse of talks that caused both leaders to leave their Vietnam meeting early and cancel a planned signing ceremony. (AP Photo/Minh Hoang)
A man reads newspapers fronting U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at a newspaper stall Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019, in Hanoi. Trump and Kim cut short their second summit Thursday without reaching an agreement, a stunning collapse of talks that caused both leaders to leave their Vietnam meeting early and cancel a planned signing ceremony. (AP Photo/Minh Hoang) AP

I currently subscribe to three newspapers. Two come to me via the Internet, but only because they are not delivered in McClellanville. Those would be The Sun News and The New York Times.

In addition, I have had an off-and-on relationship with Charleston’s Post & Courier. I’ve quit it twice, deciding I didn’t spend enough time with it to pay the monthly fee. After a couple of weeks without touching, feeling, folding a live morning newspaper, I renewed my subscription. Twice.

I don’t, unfortunately, have a newspaper in this town where I live and I miss knowing what’s going on. There isn’t much, I confess, but how do I find out what those sirens were about last night? Trying to separate rumor from fact can be a fool’s errand.

I read the other day that a growing number of people around the country are also missing out on reliable close-to-home news.

University of North Carolina researchers found that some 1,400 cities and towns had lost their newspaper in the past 15 years, most of them small papers in rural communities. Dwindling advertising and declining circulation have left thousands of people with virtually no news about their town.

The Pew Research Center points out that newspaper circulation has dropped every year for the past three decades while advertising revenue across the industry has plummeted since 2006.

It’s not just small papers. Social media, which steals readers as well as advertisers, has had an impact on several big-city newspapers.

The Cincinnati Post closed in 2007 after watching its circulation drop from 182,000 in 1977 to 42,000 in 2003.

The Honolulu Advertiser closed in 2010 and the Tampa Tribune, after 120 years, published its last edition in 2016.

The Rocky Mountain News in Denver shut down in 2009, just two months before its 150th anniversary.

Readers in each of these urban areas still have a newspaper, of course. Denver has the Post, Cincinnati the Enquirer, Honolulu the Star-Advertiser, Tampa the Tampa Times.

But newspapers in small towns are, literally, the only game in town. When one closes, it leaves its community in the dark.

One such town, highlighted in a recent Associated Press story, was Waynesville, Mo., where the Daily Guide published its final edition last September. Daily Guide readers have not gotten over their loss.

Said Waynesville retiree Bill Slabaugh: “I miss the newspaper, the chance to sit down over a cup of coffee and a bagel or a doughnut . . . and find out what’s going on in the community.” He says he talks to friends but “candidly, for the most part, I’m ignorant.”

Keith Pritchard, a 63-year-old banker and lifelong resident, could offer only a lament. “Losing a newspaper,” he said, “is like losing the heartbeat of a town.”

Amen, Keith.

Contact Bob Bestler at bestler6@tds.net.

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