Letter from the Publisher

A Newspapers Worth

What is the value of a newspaper? Maisie Crow, the Editor-in-Chief, and I asked ourselves that question when Rosario and Robert Halpern came to us last June to talk about taking over.

I guess it depends on how you define “value.” Value is often considered the monetary worth of something. But it’s also something that’s intrinsically valuable or desirable.

In other words, value is all about money — or it’s not.

Traditional companies prioritize the first definition. We prefer the second. Strong, local journalism contributes to a thriving community, and there’s tangible value, we think, in telling individual stories and sharing news.

Some conventional businesses — newspaper conglomerates, for example — try to cut costs while increasing revenues. Their business model is to give as little news as possible while taking out as much money as possible. But does this philosophy serve any readers? We’re not so sure it does. And we’ve been told for at least 10 years that the trend towards digital news will be the savior of the news industry. But I guess that depends on how you define “save.”

In the past few weeks, the New York Times examined the current state of newspapers. The prognosis, in rural areas especially, is not good. Business people are buying up big-city publications with national reach, like the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and The Denver Post. On August 5th, the two largest owners of local newspapers, Gannett and GateHouse announced a merger that could create “run-rate cost synergies of $275 – $300 million annually” and unlock “meaningful shareholder value,” according to a press release.

Good for their executives. But what does that mean for the communities this merger supposedly serves? Meanwhile, independent local and regional newspapers are said to be struggling.

One outcome is an outsized focus on national and global news. That can be partisan, sensational and alienating. Don’t believe us? Just turn on CNN or Fox News. It’s possible that all people want are stories about the White House, China and North Korea. But we believe the stories that often most affect people happen not across the country or world, but just down the street. These are stories that people can relate to on a personal and visceral level.

Newspapers exist to be watchdogs — to serve the interests of a community. That’s the definition of a sentinel. It’s our namesake. It’s how we see our role. Which raises the question: How do we best serve the needs of our readers and our community?

Quality, in-depth journalism matters. Giving our readers a seat at the table matters. With our building, The Sentinel, we aim to do business differently. You can stop by anytime for a coffee, cocktail or event and support journalism in the process. You can interact with your community. Interact with the journalists here. Even your purchases go towards funding more of what our purpose is. So let’s lose the corporate talk of efficiencies and economies of scale. To us, that’s not our kind of value.

To date, the so-called “disruption” to the conventional newspaper business model has been about extracting value — decreasing staff while increasing the ability of national advertisers to access their audience. Instead, we’ll be over here focusing on unlocking value for the sake of our own success. Put another way, we’re disrupting the disruption.

We hope you’ll join us on this journey as we imagine what the future of local journalism might look like. We exist to support you. We are your paper. And we strive to make you proud with every issue we publish.

  • Max Kabat
    Publisher, The Big Bend Sentinel & Presidio International