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PAINTER: The Tribune is one of those resilient newspapers

• Mar 25, 2019 at 3:00 PM

Are local newspapers on the verge of extinction?

Some experts will have you believe that newspapers are dying a slow death. For example, The Associated Press recently produced a story about the demise of one local newspaper — the Daily Guide in Waynesville, Missouri. The paper folded last fall, leaving the town of 5,200 residents without a newspaper to cover city council meetings, local social events and high school sports, as well as other important events.

The AP reported that “with the loss of the Daily Guide, Waynesboro joined more than 1,400 other cities and towns to lose a newspaper in the past 15 years.” We hear from some media experts lamenting the demise of local newspapers. “They (newspapers) are getting eaten away at every level,” Ken Doctor, a news industry analyst, told The AP.

Not everyone has painted such a doom-and-gloom picture of the future of local newspapers.

Journalism professors Christopher Ali and Damian Radcliffe, who co-authored a study of newspapers in the digital age, said small-market newspapers have been more resilient than their larger counterparts.

Ali explained that although smaller newspapers have been slower to transition to digital technology, they’ve learned from the successes and failures of the larger newspapers. He also said smaller local newspaper editors and reporters have a connection with their readers. You’ll run into them at the grocery store or gas station, he added.

What Ali and Radcliffe said is true. Even though I no longer work for the Tribune, I still run into people who remember me when I was at the helm of its editorial department. Most of the newspaper staff lives in our area. They have children who go to our schools, attend our churches and are involved in other local activities.

The Tribune has had a long history of serving residents of northern Ottawa County. My recollection of that history dates to 1985 when I was hired as sports editor. The Tribune then was fortunate to be led by managing editor Fred VandenBrand. When he retired, I did my best to fill his shoes.

Fred and I came from old-school journalism. Early in our careers, we banged out stories on manual typewriters and we edited copy with a pencil. The internet was just surfacing when I became managing editor.

But all that would change. Now, the Tribune has more challenges to face in the digital age of newspaper newsrooms. Producing a good local newspaper is much more demanding. Not only does the editorial staff write and edit copy for the print edition, they are responsible for producing content for the newspaper’s website.

Yes, I’ve heard all the criticism about how the newspaper is too small and that the news is old by the time it is delivered through the mail. The fact is that the same stories are often posted earlier on the Tribune’s website, especially if it is a breaking news when updates will be continuously posted. Producing a newspaper is now a 24/7 venture.

The fact is that the Tribune has flourished in the digital age. How well? Tribune Publisher Kevin Hook said that the average web page views per month is at 1.7 million, and the number of unique visitors is at 175,548. Page views for the year are up 52 percent, and unique views are up 42 percent over last year.

“Our mission is to be hyper local,” Hook said. “We work hard to understand what information is relevant to the community, and we provide it in a timely manner.”

The Tribune has become a better newspaper since I left. The editors and reporters work hard to keep readers informed of important issues in the community.

Residents of Waynesville are mourning the loss of their local newspaper. Now there is no one keeping an eye out on city council deliberations, reporting on the successes of their children or reading about who dies in their community.

Newspapers such as the Grand Haven Tribune are important to a community. The newspaper chronicles the history of a community, reports about important local events, covers governmental news and much more. We are fortunate to have such a resilient newspaper in our community.

— By Len Painter, Tribune community columnist

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