Claremont Insider: The Death of The Small Town Paper

Friday, June 1, 2007

The Death of The Small Town Paper

We came across a 2006 article from The Economist magazine titled "Who Killed the Newspaper?" The commentary got us to thinking about the future of small town journalism.

As we've noted before, there's been a significant drop off in quality, in-depth local coverage the last year or so. At one time, the Claremont Courier provided a good source of information on the local scene. Owned since 1955 by publisher Martin Weinberger, the Courier is a an independently-owned local paper that strived for a certain kind of focused local reporting that gave a real snapshot of the town. And the coverage during the tumultuous times of the late 1990's and early 2000's showed a real professionalism. The Courier under Weinberger was able to ask tough questions.

Weinberger, who has been absent from the Courier for some time due to health problems, is the last of a rapidly disappearing breed. A 2005 profile in La Verne Magazine pointed out the obvious: He is a newspaperman. The Courier reflected that tradition with its strong stance on First Amendment issues and its willingness to print all sides of a viewpoint. It really was the community forum, our meeting place. Remarkably, as the La Verne Magazine article reported, the Courier has had only two publishers in the past 99 years - Weinberger and his predecessor Stanley Larson.

At some point, perhaps in the not-too-distant future, the Courier will be sold either to an out-of-town newspaper group or possibly to a local group with its own agenda. Indeed, there has been speculation about town that some of the Claremont 400 might try to buy the Courier, which would spell the end of the institution for sure. If the paper becomes nothing but a soapbox for any single person or group, one way of thinking, it will represent the antithesis of the journalistic professionalism that Weinberger stands for.

As one reader wrote in yesterday, "[if that happened], we might as well just cancel our subscriptions and just settle for the free city newsletter." The Courier would become nothing more than a glorified Pennysaver, good for not much more than real estate ads and calendars of events and silly boosterism. A glance at the last few issues suggests that may have already happened.

The chatter about town on this point is happening in too many places for there not to be some concern for the Courier's well-being. We worry that where there's smoke, there's fire. Would a paper owned by Claremonsters bring the journalistic insight and experience to the table that a Martin Weinberger possesses if by chance they took an interest in buying the paper? Could they be fair in their editorial judgment? We think not.

As much as we like blogs and blogging, we're smart enough to know what we don't know--unlike the Claremont 400. We understand that we're not professional journalists; we simply fill a kind of informational niche that has opened precisely because of the problems facing newspapers today. Print media owned by people and corporations that don't really understand these problems focus on things like the financial bottom line instead of just covering the news and providing balanced context for that information. The bottom line usually takes care of itself if the content is there.

A real newspaper needs the judgment and experience of professionals such as Weinberger. Without those dedicated people, the small town paper loses all credibility and cannot long survive.