When a newspaper dies

Father David Epps's picture

Just this past week, my wife informed me that newspapers all over the country are shutting their doors. “People are getting their news off the Internet and from cable news shows,” she opined. I argued that, especially in small towns, local newspapers were vital for the distribution of local and regional news. There will, I proclaimed, always be a need for the local newspaper.

Where else, but in a newspaper, could one discover that Nick’s Pizzeria, in Grantville, Ga., failed in their bid to secure a beer/wine license from the City Council? Where else, but in a local paper, could one read about the Hogansville city fathers setting a public hearing for an alcohol permit sought by Hawg Heaven? Where else but in the local paper could one get the news about community churches, events, births, deaths, and sports? Certainly not on cable news or on the Internet. And not in the big-city dailies.

Yet, much to my personal dismay, another newspaper prints its final edition this week. The West Georgia Beacon, a weekly paper serving towns such as Grantville, Hogansville, Franklin, and other small communities, will go out of business due to a lack of advertisers. The paper is crisp, features color photos, excellent articles — my columns have even been featured from time to time — and that vital commodity known as “local news.”

The paper began 11 years ago, a venture started by the Leo Hohmann family, when “gasoline was $1.09 gallon and the cost of a first class stamp was 32 cents,” as Mr. Hohmann wrote in the next to last edition of the paper. Rising fuel costs, postage increases, the cost of printing have all contributed to the paper’s struggles. The largest advertiser of the paper recently decided to put all its money into billboards and other non-newspaper media and the loss of revenue was keenly felt.

It’s sad. While billboards and TV ads have their place, an ad placed in a newspaper not only benefits the company but it allows for the distribution of news to the community — news the citizens might otherwise not receive.

It’s the small town newspaper that informs citizens about the goings-on at city council meetings and meetings of the county commissions. It’s the small town newspaper that holds politicians and city officials accountable. It’s the small town newspaper that recognizes the student athlete from the tiny high school that would never otherwise have his or her photo in the newspaper.

It’s the small town newspaper that provides a forum for dissent, that allows citizens to speak their mind, and that serves as a balance between the powerful and the powerless. During the formative years of the nation, newspapers served an essential function in the search and struggle for liberty.

The West Georgia Beacon earned 12 Georgia Press Association awards over the past three years and won first place this year for feature writing in the state-wide Better Newspaper Contest. The newspaper is not closing its doors because of a lack of quality or because of poor management or sloppy writing and reporting. As in many cases, there is simply not enough money to keep going.

The Hohmann family will be fine — Leo’s skills have been recognized and he has been offered a position in another town with a bigger paper. It’s the community that will be the loser. It is a sad day in America when a newspaper dies.

[Father David Epps is the founding pastor of Christ the King Church, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277, between Peachtree City and Newnan, and serves as a bishop to Georgia and Tennessee. Services are held Sundays at 8 and 10 a.m. Fr. Epps is also the vicar of Christ the King Church in Champaign, IL. He may be contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org. The church has a website at www.ctkcec.org.]

login to post comments | Father David Epps's blog