Small-Town Newspapers Thrive as the Big Boys Fade

USC Annenberg journalism professor Judy Muller has an op-ed in today’s LA Times lauding America’s small-town newspapers. which she says are “doing just fine, thank you,” despite the collapse of their larger, big-city brethren.

Some 8,000 weekly papers still hit the front porches and mailboxes in small towns across America every week and, for some reason, they’ve been left out of the conversation. So a couple of years ago, I decided to head back to my roots, both geographic and professional (my first job was at a weekly), to see how those community papers were faring. And what I found was both surprising and inspiring. …

The “holy trinity” of weekly papers consists of high school sports (where even losing teams benefit from positive spin), obituaries (where there’s no need to speak ill of the dead because everyone in town already knows if the deceased was a jerk) and the police blotter. The latter can be addictive, even to outsiders. These items, often lifted intact from the dispassionate log of the sheriff’s dispatcher, are the haikus of Main Street: “Caller states that there is a 9-year-old boy out mowing the lawn next door and feels that is endangering the child in doing so when the mother is perfectly capable of doing it herself.” Or: “Man calls to report wife went missing 3 months ago.”

She’s right. This Fishie hated his hometown, but still checks the police blotter of the local paper from time to time to see if anyone he knows is in there. Although apparently my local paper is bucking the trend. According to Muller most papers aren’t giving their content away for free online. Which is why they’ve been able to thrive. We’ll see how long that lasts. Probably until Patch gets its act together and figures out a way to gut their advertising base.

Looks like local papers may still have a good amount of time.

Previously on FishbowlLA:
Author Lauds Achievements of Small-Town Community Newspapers