This a good time for us to take stock of your community newspaper.
The folks who toil in the vineyards of local journalism are not perfect. We will and do make mistakes; it’s part of human fallibility. But that should not overshadow the hard work and passion exhibited day in and day out by a group of committed professionals who perpetually prove that newspaper journalism is less a career and more of a calling. If they chose a different path, our journalists could work 9 to 5, with no weekends, and for a lot more money. Instead, they have chosen to chronicle the human condition in Blount County under the relentless daily deadline pressure that non-journalists could never fathom.
The collective work of our journalists was recognized July 18 during the Tennessee Press Association summer convention in Chattanooga, where The Daily Times received 25 awards — far and away its most in at least its modern history. To give some perspective, an editorial about this newspaper’s 2013 TPA awards cited The Daily Times’ 11 honors, “the newspaper’s highest number in nearly a decade.” The 25 awards this year, for work during calendar year 2018, were five more than our nearest competitor in our circulation category, which includes larger newspapers such as the Bristol Herald Courier, Johnson City Press, The Jackson Sun and Kingsport Times-News. Our advertising and circulation departments proved equally adept, winning 20 TPA awards.
There’s a reason that newspapers like yours are known as “The Daily Miracle.” A handful of journalists here create a product that typically contains more than 25,000 words and 100 photographs and images every day. The other daily miracle is that The Daily Times reached its 136th birthday this year. By contrast, 2,100 American newspapers have closed in the past 15 years.
Newspapers have struggled for years with plummeting revenues created when our industry failed to mount a credible challenge against the Wild West free-for-all (with an emphasis on free) that is the internet. Those struggles intensified with the Great Recession.
Nearly 200 U.S. counties now have no newspapers at all — news deserts where local governments can run amok without the prying eyes and teeth of newspaper watchdogs. A study published in June 2018 by Columbia Journalism Review found, among other things:
“Local governments frequently borrow money to finance public works projects such as schools, hospitals, and roadways. Lenders demand higher interest rates if they think they are lending to a riskier borrower — that is, a borrower who is more likely to default on a loan. We suspected that if local media is not present to keep their government in check, then there would be a greater likelihood of mismanaged public funds and other government inefficiencies. As a result, governments lacking local media coverage would be perceived as riskier borrowers and forced to pay correspondingly higher interest rates on the funds they borrow for public works projects. The costs stemming from higher interest rates would ultimately be borne by local taxpayers.”
A CJR article on that study — www.cjr.org/united
_states_project/public-finance-local-news.php — was headlined: “When local papers close, costs rise for local governments.”
Communities without newspapers don’t have comprehensive high school football coverage, profiles of hardworking community members, features on local churches, and all of the other fare typical of newspapers. Perhaps the most-egregious newspaper closing will occur Aug. 31, when the Youngstown (Ohio) Vindicator will close its doors for good, its press rumbling into silence after 150 years. The Vindy, as it’s known, began publication four years after the Civil War ended and will leave approximately 250,000 people without a printed source of local news.
The editorial board of this newspaper — Publisher Carl Esposito, Editor J. Todd Foster and City Editor Mike Sisco — wants to thank every journalist who spent all or part of 2018 working in our newsroom: Lesli Bales-Sherrod, Kristin Boatner, Austin Bornheim, Margaret Chwat, Waylon Cunningham, Richard Dodson, Tony Elias, Marcus Fitzsimmons, the late Mike Gibson, Amanda Greever, Sophie Grosserode, Joy Kimbrough, Jay Malone, Amy Beth Miller, Wesley Miller, Lauren Moore, Robert Norris, Abigail Potter, Troy Provost-Heron, Corey Roepken, Laura Ross, Tom Sherlin, Matthew Smollon, Daryl Sullivan, Sarah Grace Taylor, Amanda Potter Tidwell, Brennon Toledo, Rachel Totten, Melanie Tucker, Taylor Vortherms, Wes Wade, Taylor White, Steve Wildsmith and Alicia Woodall.
Many of those journalists no longer work here, but we have added others — reporters Andrew Jones, Victoria Aldrich and Shelby Harris; copy editor Nathan Houck; and photographer Scott Keller — in 2019 and pledge to continue serving this community as your eyes and ears.