By SCOTT GRABER
It is Saturday, May 4, 2019, and I’m back in Port Royal listening to weather warnings slip-slide across Port Royal Sound from Parris Island.
Many of you know that when thunderstorms move in from Georgia there are loudspeakers on PI that say, “take cover, take cover.”
While I’ve never actually taken cover, I have found these 1950s-era warnings comforting over the 40 years or so that I’ve been in Port Royal.
This morning, I’ve also got my Wall Street Journal, and it tells me that local newspapers are fading or failing. It says that “Nearly 1,800 newspapers closed between 2004 and 2018.”
Nico Mele at Harvard says that “its hard to see a future where newspapers persist.”
This fading, failing newspaper story is not lost on Beaufort folks who have been at local government meetings where there is no journalist reporting decisions of council; have been to football games, festivals and fundraisers where there is little, if any, print coverage; have seen presidential candidates arrive in Beaufort County (Elizabeth Warren) where there is only one (print) journalist present.
We have all seen this profound shrinkage and lament (at dinner parties) the absence of journalists who dutifully document our short, passing, uneven existence in this place.
The problem, as explained to me by my friend, Mike McCombs, editor of The Island News, is the cost of newsprint and printing, the cost of distribution, and the fact that the ad revenue — the lifeblood of any publication — has declined as information goes digital.
The economics are easy to see, and understand, but the effect is in the newsroom.
When the costs of paper, ink, printing and distribution increase; when the ad revenue goes to over Google and Facebook; the first casualties are the journalists.
Those are the young, just out of journalism school kids who show up at the planning board; who sit through County Council meetings; who warm the bleachers while reporting the hits and strikeouts at high school softball games.
They are the first to go. Reporting — investigative and otherwise — is replaced by something else.
That something else is often a press release that is written-up by a hospital, a dentist, a banker or a lawyer. These releases tell you that Scott Graber has been named a fellow at the American College of Name Change Lawyers and, by the way, is now accepting new clients who are unhappy with their old names.
The Wall Street Journal goes on to say that Warren Buffet began buying up local newspapers in 2011, ‘betting they could overcome the horrible economics of the print business by making a transition to the internet.’ Buffet had watched the Wall Street Journal charge for its for its online articles in 1996; watched the New York Times do the same thing in 2011; and thought he could somehow replicate their successful transition from print to digital.
But in 2018 the “Oracle of Omaha” told Yahoo Finance that newspapers are “toast” and — with the exception of the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Washington Post — “are going to disappear.”
Now, you must understand that I write for the Island News and have skin in this game. I do not come to this topic without bias and some personal concern.
But I believe there is place in our ever-changing landscape for a print newspaper. Let me be more specific — I believe there is a necessity in our current and future landscape for a print publication that has local news and, perhaps, even a “newsroom.”
I believe there are people who wake up, fix themselves a cup of Eight O’Clock Coffee and want the actual, tactile sensation of newsprint.
People who covet news from their dysfunctional council and/or school board. People who want to know if the high school team won or lost the night before. People who want to know who died and where and when there will be a service and interment.
Warren Buffett is telling us that newspapers, with a couple of exceptions, are going the way of the Buffalo.
The Wall Street Journal is saying that local news, both print and digital, is going the way of Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Call me a curmudgeon. Call me a Luddite. I simply cannot imagine Beaufort without some kind of local reporting.