When Newspapers Abandon a City

Article excerpt

Traveling around the country, it is easy to get angry about how a lot of the newspaper industry is blighting its future--and selling out its communities--for short-term profits.

Where I live on the outskirts of Washington, sameday home delivery of good newspapers is taken for granted.

The Washington Post has set a national standard by continuing to give its readers a hefty newshole and the work of a full staff throughout the recession; its main suburban challengers, which haven't, seem to be sliding toward oblivion.

Four more dailies come to our doorstep and our mailbox, and others come home in a briefcase. The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and USA Today are marvelous in combination. Each one knows what it is doing and refuses to bend with every industry fad. The Baltimore Sun is bumping through a rough time of staff merger, new zoning and other shifts in its foundation; it, too, has always marched to a different drummer, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed with hope for what it will be when it settles down.

With that daily fare, no wonder I get hungry on the road. But I know what small and middle-sized papers in any territory can be and do. My paychecks have come from papers with circulations in the neighborhood of 1,200, 2,600, 18,000, 170,000, 250,000 and 650,000.

I know, above all about journalism, that you don't have to be big to be good. WJR regularly celebrates the yeast and the zest, as well as the general quality, of choice journalism outside the biggest arenas.

But now to Blytheville, Arkansas, where this spoiled media consumer recently spent a few days. It is an agribusiness center of 24,000, the largest city in a county of about 60,000 on the Mississippi River, a little more than an hour's drive north of Memphis. …