One small town, two daily newspapers – Al Jazeera America

CRAWFORDSVILLE, Indiana – Many major cities are having difficulty holding on to one viable daily newspaper. Places such as Oakland, Calif; Birmingham, Ala.; and New Orleans have all seen their dailies disappear over the past few years, as news-hungry readers ditch print for phones or tablets in increasing numbers. Industry prognosticators have all but written the eulogy for print.

But some towns are delaying the funeral while hanging onto to not just one, but two daily papers. And it’s not in the places you might think.

Trenton, New Jersey, still has two dailies, as does Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, tucked away in the Keystone State’s coal country. But perhaps nowhere is finding two battling papers more startling than Crawfordsville, Indiana, population approximately 15,000.

Crawfordsville is a community that tilts conservative. On a recent day a prominent sign on the main road through downtown promoted an upcoming Tea Party meeting at the local library. The downtown features a mix of mom-and-pop eateries, antique stores and offices. While parts seem struggling, the downtown core has fared better than other Midwestern cities its size. It’s against this backdrop that an unlikely newspaper battle is occurring.

While precise statistics are not kept of how many two-newspaper towns still exist, Rick Edmonds of the Poynter Institute thinks Crawfordsville could be the smallest.

“I don’t know for sure, but Crawfordsville, Indiana, sounds like a good bet. It is very hard to make a go of two papers in most towns,” said Edmonds, a media and business analyst with the Poynter Institute. Ski resort Aspen, Colorado, has a population of 7,000 and two dailies, but its population triples during the winter.

Daily newspapers are either disappearing or scaling back publication. According to the Pew Research Center, there are around 300 fewer daily papers scattered across the country today than in 1990. That statistic doesn’t tell the full story, though, because many newspapers that are still publishing often do so by gutting staff, shrinking news coverage or even cutting the physical size of the paper. A metropolitan paper today looks very different than it did 20 years ago.

The most recent “annual census” from the American Society of Newspaper Editors showed that 36,700 full-time daily-newspaper journalists are employed at just less than 1,400 newspapers. That’s a 1,300-person decrease from 38,000 in 2012. In 1996, just before websites began to encroach upon print, the ASNE reported 54,000 employed in newsrooms across the country. Some newsroom purges make headlines, such as in 2013 when the Chicago Sun-Times eliminated their entire 28-person photo staff. But most newsroom reductions happen quietly and unceremoniously.     

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