“The future of newspapers is rooted firmly in 1878. Some guy was doing … 130 years ago, exactly in a place like this … what I’m doing right now. Except he had a better heating system.”
The speaker is Ed Shamy, a 50-year-old former newspaper editor from Vermont who’s part of a growing number of laid-off publishing professionals who are starting their own local publications. Ed Shamy publishes the 130-year-old County Courier in Vermont. All by himself.
Is this a trend? It could be. Yesterday, we told you about Melissa Marinan, a veteran ad sales rep who lost her job when her newspaper closed. So she’s starting her own local newspaper. Just last week, we pointed to a story about Joshua Karp, an entrepreneur who wants to start hundreds of hyper-local newspapers written by bloggers.
Amid all the hand-wringing about the perilous economics of major metro dailies, one fact has been buried: the cost of publishing a local newspaper is lower than it ever has been. Digital cameras have cut the time and cost of taking and publishing photos. Desktop software can be used to lay out pages quickly and cheaply. Editors can tap in to local blogs and websites for information that used to require phone calls and faxes. Many printers can now go direct from computer file to plate. Distribution can be done in an afternoon out of the back of one’s car.
It’s not a great way to make a living, but potentially it is a living. For the ranks of laid-off baby boomers who are no longer supporting kids and big mortgages, it may be a viable way to apply their skills. We believe local newspapers actually have a bright future.
Why can local publishing flourish while major metros collapse? No unions, for one thing. No presses, no delivery trucks, no circulation departments, no call centers. In fact, local newspapers have almost no infrastructure costs at all. A skilled writer who works full-time and leverages contributions from the community can turn out enough copy and photos to fill a 16-page weekly issue. A second person can cover every prospective advertiser in the area.
The advertisers are there. In fact, local businesses are the great untapped revenue source. Major metros traditionally haven’t bothered with them because the dollars are too small. There are no online services that serve local communities effectively. Most small businesses advertise through a patchwork of channels that can include place mats and business card holders in the local hair salon. It’s a frustrating, time-consuming process that small business owners would rather not bother with. A newspaper that reaches a local audience has a chance to deliver a better return at a lower sales cost.
Print is not dead, only certain manifestations of print. A lot of skilled publishers are out of work right now, and at least some of them will follow the path of Ed Shamy and Melissa Marinan. We wish them well.
- Baltimore’s Capital Gazette Communications will cut 111 jobs as it moves all printing operations from Annapolis to Comprint, a Laurel, Md. Printer that already produces several daily and weekly papers. The body count at Capital includes 31 full-time and 51 part-time press and mailroom positions, along with 29 other people in other departments. No reporter jobs were cut. The Capital Gazette also prints the Bowie Blade-News, Crofton News-Crier and the West County Gazette. No word on whether the contractor will hire any of the laid-off employees.
- The Missoulian (Mont.) has cut six jobs and will combine its call center with four other newspapers in big sky country. The Montana Standard is doing the same thing.
- The Hutchinson (Kan.) News will lay off four employees and require everyone to take one unpaid week of before April 30. The newspaper also plans to reduce its daily page count.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 28th, 2009 at 12:31 pm and is filed under Advertising, BusinessModel, Future of Journalism, Layoffs, Local news, NewMedia. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.