PD Editorial: Sharing some good news about local journalism

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You don’t have to look very hard to find bad news about local newspapers.

More than 2,000 American newspapers, mostly weeklies, have closed their doors in the past 15 years, according to a University of North Carolina researcher. Warren Buffett, who once described himself as a newspaper addict, sold off his chain of 31 daily papers last month. On Thursday, Sacramento-based McClatchy Newspapers filed for bankruptcy protection, and some media analysts expect the company to be taken over by a New York hedge fund.

If you listened to some of the doomsday commentary, you might think that the last American newspaper will roll off the presses any day now.

These are tough times for the news industry, no question about it. Daily print circulation is down, and a lot of advertising has migrated to the internet. But we want to assure you that The Press Democrat isn’t going anywhere, thanks to local readers, advertisers and owners.

Your local paper is financially stable, and we remain committed to providing thorough coverage of the North Bay.

Seven out of 10 adults in Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino counties read The Press Democrat or one of our affiliated publications in print or online every week, according to Scarborough Research, an independent analyst of news media usage.

That’s 378,500 people relying on this paper, the Sonoma Index-Tribune, the Petaluma Argus-Courier, Sonoma Magazine, La Prensa Sonoma and the North Bay Business Journal for local news. We recently added one more local publication, the monthly Sonoma Gazette.

No other publication, radio station or cable news network comes close to our reach.

And no one else can match our staff of 53 reporters, photographers and editors covering local news in the North Bay.

Journalists who live in the communities they cover have an added staked in their work. They are holding their own public officials accountable, as Press Democrat reporters did when a homeless encampment blocked public access to the Joe Rodota Trail. They send their children to local schools, patronize local businesses, attend community events and keep their neighbors informed. Two Pulitzer Prizes speak to the quality of their work.

“When local news withers, bad things happen,” Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan, a former local newspaper editor herself, wrote last year. Citing academic research, she added, “people vote less, and they vote in a more politically polarized way. Political corruption has more opportunity to flourish, unnoticed by the local watchdog. And municipal costs may rise.”

Some of the nation’s flagship newspapers — the Chicago Tribune, the Denver Post, the San Jose Mercury News — now belong to hedge funds that strip mine them for profits, selling off real estate and laying off journalists to retire debt and boost the bottom line. It appears that McClatchy, whose papers include the Sacramento Bee, Kansas City Star and Miami Herald, may be next.

The Press Democrat returned to local ownership in 2012, and Sonoma Media Investments, our parent company, paid off its debts last year. That sets us apart from many struggling media companies.

We have challenges, including a reduction in national advertising and a slow drop in print circulation. But with steady gains in digital subscriptions, The Press Democrat has more readers than at any time in our history, and 163 years after printing our first edition, we’re still telling the North Bay’s story every day.

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