Commentary: 2 newspapers close every week in this country. Gulf Coast Media wants to buck the trend.

BY KAYLA GREEN
Executive Editor
kayla@gulfcoastmedia.com
Posted 7/4/22

The statistics continue to alarm.

This country is losing newspapers at a rate of two per week. We've lost more than 360 in the pandemic and more than a quarter of them all since 2005. A fifth of …

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Commentary: 2 newspapers close every week in this country. Gulf Coast Media wants to buck the trend.

Posted

The statistics continue to alarm.

This country is losing newspapers at a rate of two per week. We've lost more than 360 in the pandemic and more than a quarter of them all since 2005. A fifth of our country's population is now without a local news organization or in an area where it's at risk of losing the one left.

A term was coined a few years ago and has been growing since amid closures and cutbacks. A news desert is a community that is not regularly covered by a local outlet. They have "limited access to the sort of credible and comprehensive news and information that feeds democracy at the grassroots level."

When those papers close, they're often in "economically struggling, traditionally underserved communities that need local journalism the most."

When they close, those communities are not getting a print or digital replacement, Penelope Muse Abernathy said in her fifth-annual report on the state of local news.

When that happens, people become ignorant of what's going on around them. They don't learn about local government or school board decisions. They remain in the dark about business openings and high school sporting accomplishments, about new dining options, who died, who got married, who did something bad, who did something good, what's for sale in the classified section.

That's not an assumption.

"Voter participation declines, corruption in both government and business increases, and local residents end up paying more in taxes and at checkout," Abernathy wrote.

This all contributes to the spread of misinformation and disinformation. Political polarization becomes rampant, as does a reduced trust in media. The situation is a "crisis for our democracy and our society."

Despite this bleak forecast, there is a rainbow in Baldwin County.

While many surviving newspapers cut staff and print days in the pandemic, Gulf Coast Media did not.

While the largest chains that control many of the nation's remaining newspapers – hedge funds, private equity groups of other investment firms, Abernathy reports – focus their business strategies on consolidation and closing unprofitable papers that don't sell, Gulf Coast Media is independently and family owned, giving its staff the autonomy and space to innovate.

While "newspapers are dying" is a trope, Gulf Coast Media is leading a rebrand of local news in Baldwin County. From our logo and the aesthetic design of all our products to our journalists' shifting to community-focused beats for a fresh perspective, our goal is to give readers what they want and need to understand their community, whether they're residents or visitors. To listen and learn. To tell stories, inform and entertain.

Population data from the U.S. Census Bureau show the nation is aging while getting more diverse. Younger adults in their early 20s and 30s are leaving large metro areas. Our goal is to deliver reliable, informative and engaging local news that serves a diversifying population on the platforms and devices they are already using.

We've introduced new advertising campaigns such as Best of Baldwin and are building a video department that offers commercial and editorial content. We print twice a week but update our website daily and are growing our social media presence. We send a free bi-weekly newsletter that delivers headlines, promotions and breaking news to your email inbox.

"Some legacy news outlets are deftly transforming from print to digital," said Tim Franklin, senior associate dean, John M. Mutz Chair in Local News and director of the Medill Local News Initiative, who oversaw the State of Local News 2022 research with Abernathy, a visiting professor at Northwestern and the primary author of the report. "There are unheralded local news leaders who are adapting and experimenting with new models. And local news is increasingly being delivered through newsletters and other digital platforms. But the need to innovate is urgent."

We know the stakes are high, the obstacles higher.

We also know we can't do it alone. Support of local news by the community it serves is vital. Whatever that means to you, from a like on social media to a digital subscription to renewing your print delivery, it is noticed and appreciated.

Like anything in the story of evolution. What doesn't evolve dies. It can happen slowly so that you don't realize what you're missing until it's gone, too late. We must adapt. And unlike earthly evolution, we must do it now.

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