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Communities rally for their newspapers

The newspaper industry’s struggles have allowed some communities to shine when it comes to keeping their paper from extinction or a lesser, but still undesirable, fate.

Take the Times-Picayune, for instance. Parent Advance Publications recently announced it was reducing the daily’s print schedule down to a frequency of three days a week and moving towards a digital focus, which is not a bad plan in today’s media landscape. But the paper’s reading community isn’t thrilled with the latest development to their paper.

According to the WSJ.com, a committee of more than 100 people from local business heads, groups, universities, and neighborhood associations are trying to convince Advance to keep the print paper as a daily. And if that doesn’t work, finding a buyer who will keep the paper running seven days a week or finding a publisher to launch a new daily in New Orleans are other ideas on the table. This small-town mentality may seem strange for a big paper like the Times-Picayune, but New Orleans has had its share of disaster and this has no doubt brought them together as a community.

Less rare have been instances where communities have worked together to save their smaller community paper. Recently, Today.com relayed the story of a tiny Colorado town called Silverton. A former mining town, its newspaper is comprised of one man. And when the community saw that it was struggling and in danger of closure, they banded together. School kids raised money, while the local historian convinced her board to take on the role of publisher. Another resident offered to contribute a column. Sometimes all it takes is a community that loves its paper enough.

The Gannett Company’s Birmingham Eccentric in Michigan knows all about community loyalty. In 2009, faced with the prospect of losing their paper like so many other communities across the country, residents of Birmingham and Bloomfield created a webpage to generate new subscriptions, held town meetings to rally support, and took a trip down to Gannett’s headquarters in Virginia to negotiate for the paper’s survival. Meanwhile, columnists, writers and photographers came out of the woodwork to offer their services free of charge.

Although at one time the Eccentric published twice a week, it’s now doing just fine as a weekly. “We have stabilized and we kind of reexamined the paper from top to bottom to see how we could make it more attractive to readers,” said the paper’s editor Greg Kowalski. The paper had lost its way; coverage had drifted from its local roots and become diluted.

Since then, the paper has returned to the glory of being truly community-focused. Now, the paper has even more volunteers helping out with photography, writing, and its cooking column.

Even as competitors have moved into town, like Patch.com with sites in both Birmingham and Bloomfield, Kowalski said they have maintained their readership, although he admitted they have probably lost some advertisers along the way. The paper’s readers, he noted, are still very print-oriented. “I still believe we’re still recognized as the voice of the community,” he said.

And that seems to be the point: communities not wanting their voices to be silenced.

Katrina M. Mendolera

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