There are enough horror stories about the future of newspaper to make you think Wes Craven is the new CEO at Editor and Publisher. Yet, some smaller, community papers — the original “hyper-locals” — that are supposedly ensconced in garlic cloves, doing business right beneath the noses of larger, Paleolithic metropolitan dailies that can’t capture the sense or nuance of life in the ’burbs or even sections of downtown.
So imagine how harrowing it is to read about the impending demise of The Manassas (Va.) News & Messenger, a 10,000-circulation, five-day-a-week newspaper covering a bedroom community of Washington, D.C., and tracing its history to 1869. The move recently was announced in a letter to readers.
The newspaper will publish its last edition Dec. 30, according to World Media Enterprises Inc., a division of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. The News & Messenger was among 63 newspapers purchased from the Media General Group of Richmond, Va., last June. The purchase raised eyebrows, but Buffett said he was bullish on the future of smaller, community newspapers.
So isn’t the News & Messenger the sort of publication that Buffett believes will take out juggernauts like The Washington Post at the knees?
Interestingly, Washington Post blogger Tom Jackman in a recent post calls the decision “horrendous news for everyone in Prince William County” and concedes “The News & Messenger and (its website) InsideNoVA are the definitive source of news” in the 400,000-resident Prince William County.
Yet, not only have Buffett’s newspaper executives determined the Manassas print product was never profitable and was never going to be, they shut down the online operation, as well.
Yikes! Twice the chills.
So have Buffett and World Media suddenly become less bullish? Company officials say no.
“Let me be clear: World Media remains bullish on community newspapers and our ability to publish news and advertising content on a variety of platforms that is useful to our readers and the communities in which they live,” said Doug Hiemstra, president and CEO of parent World Media.
The Manassas newspaper was an outlier, Heimstra says — the rare small property within the former Media General portfolio that faced lots of competition and simply could not turn a buck. Once this twig is lopped Dec. 30, no further cuts are planned, he and other company officials have said.
In case you’re wondering, even before its purchase of most of Media General’s print products, the company’s newspaper holdings already included the flagship Omaha World-Herald and The Buffalo News. It now owns 88 weekly and daily papers in eight states, according to an article on the Poytner Institute website.
And the company apparently is quite pleased with the most of them.
As the editor of a 10,000- and a 20,000-circulation newspaper, that’s a relief. I’m not sure my ticker could take many more Manassases.