Newspaper Readers Must Change Their Habits

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A friend of mine texted me last Sunday morning: Gary, there’s something wrong about Sunday morning without a newspaper. I replied that I agreed completely. The Longview News-Journal recently dropped its print editions to three times weekly — on Wednesday, Friday, and a Weekend Edition delivered out where we live on Saturday. There is no newspaper waiting at the ends of our driveways on Sunday morning. When one has spent a lifetime — I’ve been reading newspapers since I learned to read — anticipating that fat Sunday morning paper, it takes some adjustment.

To be clear, I completely understand why the decision was made to cut print frequency. Some days, I would open the Tuesday paper, for example, and there would be little to no advertising inside. Advertising used to be 80% of a newspaper’s revenue, the rest coming from subscriptions and single-copy sales at stores and racks. Increasingly, circulation takes up more of the pie but neither it nor online revenue are anywhere near sufficient to plug the gap in print advertising revenue. Something had to give, because a print newspaper with no advertising inside is losing money on that issue.

It has been a dozen years since I was publisher of the News-Journal, the newspaper where I began my career at 13 as a paperboy in 1968. The newspaper business was very good to me. I cherish my memories of running that paper and nearly a dozen others during nearly 50 years of making a living working for newspapers. I continue to be tangentially involved, writing a weekly column called Capital Highlights for the Texas Press Association. About 100 smaller newspapers across the state publish it. And I again dabble in newspaper brokering, primarily with smaller operations, trying to match up buyers and sellers, as well as doing appraisals.

The News-Journal continues to be a fine community newspaper that does its best to keep its readers informed of what is going on in our community. The family-owned company has decided it makes more sense to invest in hiring more journalists than in absorbing the increased costs of delivering print editions six days a week. Inflation has affected newspapers just as it has affected all businesses. Print advertising continues to decline across nearly all sectors. So, the decision made sense, though it saddens longtime newspaper readers like my friend and myself.

What those of us who care about our newspaper must do is change our habits. The News-Journal still publishes seven days a week online and updates with new stories on its website daily. Rather than waiting for that newspaper to plop down in the driveway, go online to read it. Now, you have to subscribe to do that. Newspapers can’t afford to give away their content any more than the local grocery store can give away cartons of milk.

Probably the biggest mistake the newspaper industry as a whole did a few decades ago was putting up websites without charging for the content. Nearly all have since rectified that mistake, but the horse got out of the barn, unfortunately. Too many folks expect their local news to be free. Folks who shell out up to a couple hundred bucks a month for streaming or cable services complain about having to pay for a newspaper subscription, which is invariably very reasonably priced.

This is not a huge transition for me. I already subscribe and read The New York Times and the Washington Post online, as well as all the state’s metro newspapers. Adding the News-Journal to the mix is not a big deal. I know it is for some folks, like my friend, who worries that reading the paper will fade from his daily routine, as he put it in his text message. I really hope it doesn’t.

While there are a number of new faces at the paper, there are also several staff members who were there during my tenure a dozen-plus years ago. I know them to be dedicated journalists with great integrity and talent. They are doing their best to provide the best community journalism they can. What is changing is that now we will have to read their work or view their photographs online on the days a print edition is not published. I think it is worth the effort to do so.

There is no doubt that newspapers of all sizes are critical to this country’s democracy. I urge you to support your local newspaper wherever you live. Some cities now also have nonprofit news sites, such as the Fort Worth Report and the Tyler Loop. They deserve support as well.

Besides subscribing, if you want to support local journalism in the areas served by Morris Roberts Media — which publishes the Longview, Tyler, Kilgore and Marshall newspapers in East Texas — you can also make a tax-deductible donation at www.MorrisRobertsFoundation.org. It is a sound investment in local journalism.

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