WE GOT SOME EXTRA advertising business this week and I wish we hadn’t. It’s not the money; we need every penny we earn. It’s not the customer, either. The Town of New Lebanon previously used us as one of its official town papers for publication of its public notices, and we appreciate being its official town newspaper again. So why not celebrate?
The reason for this small windfall is that another newspaper, The Eastwick Press, will cease publication this week. It has covered local news in five towns, a village and two school districts in eastern Rensselaer County. It also reported on, and carried notices from New Lebanon, which borders Rensselaer County.
Now we have to write the obituary of yet another local newspaper. The body count continues to grow. That grim fact makes me especially grateful that you’re taking time to read this.
You can make a lofty case for the importance of newspapers and, in particular, small papers in small communities. We publish helpful information and report the good and bad things people, government, nature and businesses do. The Eastwick Press has had a front-row seat for a big story recently, because one of the communities it covers is Hoosick Falls, where a factory in the village leaked dangerous chemicals called PFOAs into the local water supply.
Much larger media organizations have long since brought resources to bear reporting the PFOA story. The combined coverage has prompted Albany and the federal government to respond. That’s how news is supposed to work. But the big regional news outlets didn’t have time or space to also cover this year’s Hoosick Falls Central School Prom. As news consumers, we wouldn’t expect them to. But Eastwick Press ran a photo of healthy, happy teenagers on the front page and a story inside.
Homey news like the prom doesn’t diminish the importance of the pollution story. We need both the newscast/newspaper headline coverage and reminders from local news sources that the community remains vibrant despite the poisons that have recently defined it. What the 1,700 or so people of southeastern Rensselaer County who buy the Eastwick Press each week are about to lose is not the big news but the local perspective and context–a voice that reports from the community rather than just about it.
The end of the Eastwick Press forces us to think about our role as a community newspaper. The technology and economics of the news business are changing at a dizzying pace. For the moment too many residents of Columbia County lack high speed internet and mobile communications connections. But how long will it be before we’re challenged by “Uber News”: you’ll call up and ask for the type of news story you want and it will appear instantly on your mobile device. Who needs a newspaper in a world where news is whatever the consumer requests?
I reject that dark view of the future of news, but none of us can hide from the possibility that what we call a phone today will also be a fork and chauffeur so soon that we’ll hardly have time to notice. And as our gadgets demand ever more of our attention, local news will have to follow.
If your mainstream news source tells you something happened halfway around the world, you can check other large news organizations. What most of us can’t do is travel to the sites where news is made and judge for ourselves what happened. But with local news the opposite is true. We don’t have well-funded news resources or ready access to some the places and people in the news. Instead the newspaper is your surrogate at that local event or meeting and you, as a citizen and a news consumer can hold both your local officials your local newspaper accountable based on your own observations. If you think you can find all you need to know on social media, good luck.
There’s no villain in the demise of The Eastwick Press. Market forces and the new technology are squeezing our industry hard. The business model is straining to adjust. There isn’t a guaranteed route to success no matter how you define it.