What happens when a newspaper owner is ready to retire and there’s no one in line to take over?
“As I go around the country and talk to different people at weekly and small daily papers, we’re finding there’s no succession plan at these papers,” said Jim Iovino of West Virginia University.
To help keep these papers alive, and to train and prepare the next generation of newspaper owners, Iovino and Don Smith of the West Virginia Press Association have teamed up to start NewStart, a local newspaper ownership program.
“We’re looking at the community level, small town weekly papers, daily newspapers across the country. We’re trying to find these individuals who want to come back and work in their hometown or find a new small town they want to live in, who want to own a paper or publication,” he says. “We train them in all the ways they need to do that in a smart way going forward with digital subscriptions, a whole new business model and then help match them up with a newspaper that wants to sell in an area they want to buy. We help facilitate that transaction and give them years of support after.”
Newspapers remain the best source of local news and play major roles in small town life, Smith says.
Small towns “count on their newspaper to be the marketplace of ideas in their community. When you talk to someone about their newspaper, it’s local. The radio and TV may be regional, but their newspaper is local. These small weekly newspapers stay in the home from week to week and often they’ll have the whole year sitting there.”
The goal is to keep these papers alive, keep them in their communities, without turning them into affiliates of one of the larger newspaper conglomerates, they say. They also don’t want to see news deserts overtake these towns.
NewStart offers a year-long program, at West Virginia University but also offered online, to go over the business side of things. They help prospective new owners make a business plan, learn the economics of newspaper ownership, but the course also helps the person find a newspaper to take over and make the deal happen.
“If you don’t understand the entrepreneurial part of this but want to make that commitment to a community, you probably won’t make it,” Smith says.