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Meeting needs is key to newspaper survival

It has been almost a year since Highway 29 Media Co. was formed to acquire and save the Calistoga Tribune and the Yountville Sun. While the learning curve has been steep, with the challenges...

It has been almost a year since Highway 29 Media Co. was formed to acquire and save the Calistoga Tribune and the Yountville Sun. While the learning curve has been steep, with the challenges of producing a weekly paper while creating a new business, hiring staff, raising money and getting the papers out to readers, I’m proud of the progress that we’ve made and the important role that so many of you in the Calistoga community have played. Many of you contributed, some substantially, with many stopping by the office to offer support. The Napa Valley Community Foundation provided grants and an acquisition loan. Local advertisers continued to be key partners, reflecting their strong belief in this vital community institution. 

This community-wide effort represents the fundamental shift in the business model of local news. While local news remains highly treasured by local communities, we continue to lose two newspapers each week around the country. Yet, at the same time there is a resurgence of local news startups, both digital and print. They are launching and surviving, taking a very different approach to providing local news. 

What does this seeming contradiction tell us? I believe it says loud and clear that while the old model of community journalism no longer works for various reasons, the demand for local news and information from trusted sources is stronger than ever. 

So, what must we do to satisfy this demand in an economically viable way? 

First, we need to shift our approach to be much more inclusive and better aligned with what the community needs and wants so that the community itself is enriched, stronger and empowered. The old model was a megaphone – the new content model needs to be a mirror on a local community. 

Successful local papers cover a broad range of stories outside of the traditional “city hall news.” Neiman Labs just released a research piece titled, “More city hall coverage won’t be enough to revive local news.” The key takeaway is that local newspapers must provide coverage of everything going on in a local community – from social events to high school sports and business profiles as well as city hall news. In short, for the new model to work, the community needs to not only feel seen, but to actually be reflected in a newspaper’s unique local content. That means much more community collaboration and expansion of what we do for you. Local newspapers must be active participants in community life. 

The old model relied on advertising to pay the bills. And while advertisers will always remain a much-appreciated source of revenue, the new model must widen its aperture. The new model requires the support of local donors, events, foundations, and individual contributors – a model that has supported the growth of public radio. Reflective of this, we’re in the process of setting up a new nonprofit corporation, the “Napa Valley News Group,” to enable direct tax exempt donations. 

We are here – and the Tribune is still providing important news and stories – due to the support, contributions, and advertising from the Calistoga Community. In turn, we want to encourage your participation, feedback and active engagement in the Tribune. As the newspaper owner Nelson Poynter said, “Every city deserves a newspaper that loves it best”. Here’s to our love and appreciation for Calistoga. 

Marc Hand, a resident of Yountville, is chairman of the board of directors of Highway 29 Media Co., owner of the Calistoga Tribune and Yountville Sun.

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