Newspapers are dying? This digital media veteran launched one anyway.


It wasn’t even a decade in the past that Susan Clark was accountable for the Economist journal’s digital operation around the globe.

This was a forward-looking function that seemingly positioned her inside journalism’s vanguard on the time — championing media’s on-line future, at a corporation well-placed to faucet right into a profitable world viewers.

In different phrases, Clark was principally one of many final individuals you’d count on to launch a small-town print newspaper in 2022.

But she did simply that with the Redding Sentinel in Fairfield County, Conn. And whereas it’s nonetheless early within the Sentinel’s trajectory, Clark is very happy with the way it’s going.

1 / 4 of Redding households have already got subscribed. Some townspeople have despatched donations — from a couple of dollars to $1,000 — simply to assist the enterprise. And wherever she goes in her hometown, readers thank her for what she’s accomplished.

“We simply desperately wanted a paper,” Clark instructed me. Earlier than retiring from the Economist, she had moved again to Redding, inhabitants roughly 9,000, after residing in Geneva. “Given all of the splintering of data and the tribal Fb teams that folks had been turning to, our city wanted a group information supply that was impartial.”

Beware partisan ‘pink slime’ websites that pose as native information

So, she took the plunge early this yr, starting in April with a month-to-month version she thought of one thing of a pilot challenge.

“I wished to see if the city would rally spherical a newspaper,” she stated. The reply got here again loud and clear: Sure, it could, even when the duvet worth was a hefty $3. (A part of her enterprise mannequin, she famous, is “not being afraid to cost a good worth.”) Subscribers and donors will cowl 25 p.c of the price of publication; the remainder will come from promoting. The Sentinel is delivered by way of the U.S. Mail.

Clark described the response from potential advertisers as “explosive” and “phenomenal.” Why? “There’s no different option to attain individuals in Redding.” The group’s final newspaper — a weekly known as the Redding Pilot — has been a lot missed because it went out of enterprise a number of years in the past.

In a letter to the editor printed within the second subject of the Redding Sentinel, reader Tina Miller praised “this indispensable enterprise in group constructing.” noting {that a} true group requires dependable, unbiased data on points together with taxes, colleges, the atmosphere, roads, elections, public security and extra.

The three problems with the 16-page broadsheet that I reviewed are making a begin on that with articles in town funds, a controversial tree-removal plan and the proposed redevelopment of an industrial web site.

The plan now’s to transform the Sentinel, step by step, to weekly publication by November, with a digital model that may be a replica of the print newspaper. With reporting by a small cadre of freelancers and her personal multipurpose roles overseeing information, promoting, circulation and funds (she intends to rent an editor quickly), Clark doesn’t have the sources to place out an ever-changing dwell web site with breaking information.

To say that this enterprise is in opposition to the grain is an understatement. Newspapers are shuttering in the US on the price of two every week, in keeping with a current report from Northwestern College. And though there are encouraging indicators with start-up digital publications, it’s nonetheless true that information deserts — areas during which there is no such thing as a (or nearly no) supply of native information — have gotten far more widespread.

Each week, two extra newspapers shut — and ‘information deserts’ develop bigger

The pattern is essentially pushed by the lack of advertisers and readers to on-line sources, together with social media platforms, over the course of a few years. As I confirmed in my 2020 e-book, “Ghosting the Information,” the ensuing dearth of native information damages particular person communities and threatens American democracy as an entire.

Clark is a perceptive critic of how most native newspapers are being run, noting for instance in an e-mail that “they overcharge readers for print subscriptions to be able to drive them to digital the place the reader’s eyeballs might be monetized (in idea).” And she or he describes the problem of getting papers printed and distributed in immediately’s tight labor market. However she thinks, on stability, that print newspapers serve the general public higher as a result of they focus much less on driving click-worthy “engagement” and extra on public-service content material.

Given the challenges, I requested Clark if she would encourage different would-be entrepreneurs to observe her lead.

“Completely, sure,” she instructed me, after which rapidly certified that. “If the situations are proper.” That’s a fancy calculation: Are there sufficient advertisers? Is there a clearly perceived want in a group? Are freelancers accessible? Are you prepared to be nonpartisan?

However she views what she is doing as a civic obligation: the equal of serving on a city finance board or planning fee, each of which she did up to now.

And ultimately, beginning the Sentinel was a easy determination: “My hometown wanted a newspaper, one which would offer a typical set of information and a ‘grounding’ of data particular to our city, in order that we might make knowledgeable selections.”

The Sentinel is swimming in opposition to a strong tide, however, given Clark’s objectives, I hope it manages to remain afloat.

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