Although we spend more time in front of screens and less with the printed page, there is a trend running counter to this.
Community newspapers, both free and subscription-based, serve a need. They keep people connected to their communities and support local businesses.
You are probably reading one of these “artifacts” right now. Picking up a The Middleburg Eccentric from your neighborhood store or library is something you do because you value the information affecting your daily life.
But the financial struggle to stay viable is real. Both rising newsprint and gas prices affect these publications’ bottom lines. Then there are all the other rising costs including rent, salaries, and many other necessities.
Loudoun Now Reports on Things that Matter to Readers
The Loudoun Now is one of the local papers struggling with rising costs. According to publisher/editor, Norman K. Styer, “We report on things important to our community, such as happenings at the school board, court house, information you won’t find elsewhere. We go to meetings so you don’t have to.”
The paper started up seven years ago when the Leesburg Today shut down. The publication started the week after Leesburg Today shut down. According to Styer, local business leaders saw the need for the paper and supported it right away.
Styer says the most significant challenge the paper faces is on the business side- a decrease in advertising. The paper has grown from 12 pages to 48, which means advertising needs to support this growth. Local advertising means the money stays in the local community.
Leesburg Today also has an extensive online readership of 150,000 readers. However, Styer points out, “Print advertisers want to see ads in the physical paper.”
Styer says they have created podcasts and vodcasts without advertising support. He hopes to reinstate “Morning Minute,” a vodcast featuring the top five stories which ceased 18 months ago. He is in the process of upgrading the paper’s current website.
As for the future, Styer is considering a voluntary pay program- lots of papers are going that way, he says. Also, local people often ask him how they can help to ensure the paper’s existence. He would not consider a paywall, common to many online publications, because he says it runs counter to the paper’s community service mission.
He says that while increased costs of newsprint and gas have affected the paper, but these are costs he cannot pass on to readers.
Mountain Courier Continues to Serve Community Despite Rising Costs of Printing
Jeffrey DeVito, publisher of the Mountain Courier says the cost of publishing his paper has increased significantly this year, from 33 cents per issue to 45 cents.
He has not yet passed this increase on to his advertisers, instead maintaining the same advertising charges put into place in 2020, just before the pandemic took hold. And that is exactly when he and his wife, Amy Voss-DeVito, who serves as editor and a writer for the paper, took it over from the previous publisher.
Started by the Bryce Resort in 1994, Peggy and Bernie Boston acquired it in 2016. He had been a photojournalist for the Washington Evening Star and a White House photographer. When the DeVitos took over the paper, they found their staunchly loyal readers and advertisers supportive throughout the pandemic.
DeVito is “frankly amazed to have made it through the pandemic’’ and says that ad sales have actually increased, with the paper printing its maximum number of pages during the busy warmer months of 48 pages. DeVito says he maintains a 60/40 split of copy to ads and runs between 50-70 ads per month.
This loyalty may not be surprising partly because some of the reporters are retired journalists from publications such as the Washington Post and National Geographic.
Interestingly, some loyal readers are located far away from its home base in Shenandoah County.
“We have 120 subscribers across the USA– some of these are not familiar or local. Some of these readers even send us notes. We received a fake million dollar bill that said this is what your paper is really worth.” he said.
DeVito maintains a FaceBook page as the paper’s online presence and has no plans to expand that presence. He distributes the paper as far west as Winchester and Front Royal as south as Fairfax County.
As far as the future, DeVito admits he has no crystal ball, “We are thrilled to have made it through the pandemic. We have a very loyal following and wonderful writers. This support has encouraged us and shown our worth to our community.”