October 10, 2014 Last Updated 7:39 am

Newspapers explain why they are vital to their readers as National Newspaper Week ends

Local Colorado newspaper editorial explains to readers the value of local ownership versus that of that of giant private equity companies

This is National Newspaper Week, and other than the occasional editorial seen inside your local newspaper, there is hardly any way to know it is going on. It is not like there are parades being held nationwide in support of newspapers.

National Newspaper Week started, I am told, in 1940. Having grown up in the industry, I don’t ever remember there being a week where we said “hurray for newspapers” – and if we did, I’m sure it was met with the same yawns that it is today.

SPT-logo-featureBut when searching for news on newspapers one will find a smattering of editorials appearing on the importance of your local newspaper. Most simply try to convince the reader how important their newspaper is to their lives and how dedicated the paper is to serving their readers.

“We’re with you. Every week is Newspaper Week for us — because we’re dedicated to giving our readers our best,” the Shelbyville Times-Gazette said in their editorial.

The Twin Cities Daily Planet took the approach of relaying statistics in support of newspapers: “Consider the unique role of rural press: A recent study of rural Oklahomans 42.2% of respondents turned to their local newspaper as their primary source of information. Researchers concluded that “even in this age of endless Facebook feeds and dizzying arrays of other social media options, the good ol’ newspaper still has a beloved place in many rural residents’ hearts.”

It all feels a little desperate, which may be why suddenly, this year, we are reading about National Newspaper Week. The newspaper industry feels threatened, and with good reason. Sprinkled between links to editorials on NNW are those like the details of the latest layoffs at USA Today, or a story on the closing of the alt-weekly Providence Phoenix.

The editorial I read, though, that hit home, that seemed to be spot on was from the Steamboat Pilot & Today, a paper from Colorado. The editorial acknowledges the troubles within the newspaper industry by recapping the news that Digital First Media, the owner of the Denver Post and 13 other Colorado newspapers, has put its newspapers up for sale.

“Digital First’s announcement definitely rattled the foundation of an industry that continues to search for new ways to navigate the changing digital landscape, and the news definitely added fuel to the ongoing debate of whether or not the printed newspaper can survive in this day and age<” the editorial said.

“The difference between Digital First’s future and the continued success of the Steamboat Pilot & Today can be equated to the difference between a large group of newspapers controlled by Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund, and newspapers owned and operated by a family-run company,” the editorial concluded. “It’s an important distinction, and one that has served Steamboat well during the newspaper’s long history here — first with the Leckenbys and now under the watch of the Simons family, which has owned the Pilot & Today since 1994.”

In many ways, I think this one editorial said what needed to be said. Often it is not that newspapers are less relevant today than in the past, it is that the way newspapers have been run is different. Roll-up efforts have built large newspaper empires built on mountains of debt. Private equity companies love this strategy, not because it leads to greater value, but because it leads to mountains of fees they can lay on their acquired properties. Then, when they think the time is right, they sell off their investments, often to other PE firms and the cycle starts again.

Today many newspapers continue to go about their efforts to serve their communities. Where knowledgeable, dedicated local ownership runs the newspapers one finds that the papers are in no danger of failing. But where absentee ownership rules, where out-of-state journalists and editors are required to pretend to be local, newspapers struggle.

Ten years from now there will still be newspapers – both in print and digital form. And we can all hope that there will no longer need to be a need to remind readers why their local newspaper is important. But I am sure we will still be reading stories about newspaper closings and sales because too many newspaper properties are owned by companies that only see five years out – to the day they place their investments up for sale.

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