Sunday, January 26, 2020

When papers close, cost of government goes up

It’s with great sadness that I noticed yet another Minnesota newspaper has ceased publication within the past couple weeks. This is at least the second newspaper in the state to shut down this year. 

The Aug. 1 edition of the Farmington-Rosemount Independent Town Pages was its last. The newspaper was operated by a larger media company, RiverTown Multimedia. Officials said declining advertising and subscriber support prompted the decision to cease publishing the newspaper. 

According to published reports, the newspaper was losing money and that efforts to keep the publication afloat financially were unsuccessful. What seems troubling to me is that this particular newspaper serviced an area with a population of around 60,000. The communities had their own newspapers up until 2013 when RiverTown merged them into one. Upon announcing the closing, the publisher wrote, “The harsh reality is local businesses did not support the paper via advertising and the community did not value the content in sufficient enough quantity to ensure a going concern.” This same scenario seems to be played out across Minnesota.

 A few months ago the newspaper in Warroad ceased publication. I have shared the struggles we have been facing in recent months similar to those that the newspapers closing have been challenged with. The reality is that it’s up to local businesses and readers if they want the DCI to continue or face the same fate as some of the other papers that have closed. If we want to live in healthy communities, then we need to support the work of professional journalists. I’m sorry folks but you’re not going to get credible local news from Facebook and other social media. It is the work of journalists that keep our government officials in check, keep our communities informed and share the milestones of friends and family members. I came across some research that I think bears pointing out in this circumstance. 

Research in the last few years has uncovered that the decline of newspapers may also take a toll on cities’ and counties’ budgets. 

That’s the suggestion from the University of Illinois at Chicago and University of Notre Dame researchers, who are the first to look at the relationship between public finance and newspaper closures. They found that municipal borrowing costs increased by as much as a tenth of a percent after a newspaper shuttered, even when accounting for declining economic conditions. 

For the local governments included in the study, that translated to millions more in additional costs between 1996 and 2015. The reason for these changes, researchers say, is that the closure of a local newspaper creates a “local information vacuum” that is unlikely to be filled by the national or state news media, which needs to appeal to a much broader audience. Therefore, the study says, “potential lenders have greater difficulty evaluating the quality of public projects and the government officials in charge of these projects.” Local newspapers play an important watchdog role for local governments that is not easily substitutable by other sources.

For the most part businesses through their advertising support dictate the future of local newspapers. Without the support, there will be no newspaper just as a few other communities have already found out this year. And I’m sure many others will find out sooner rather than later if something doesn’t change.

 Isn’t it time to go in hot pursuit of rallying around your local community newspaper?


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Steele County Times & DCI

Steele County Times
411 E. Main St.
P.O. Box 247
Blooming Prairie, MN 55917

Dodge County Independent
121 West Main St.
Kasson, MN 55944

Dodge County Printing
121 West Main St.
Kasson, MN 55944


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