In March 1870, the California State Legislature passed legislation allowing Gilroy to incorporate and become a full town. The Gilroy Advocate, our first newspaper, started publishing a weekly edition only a year ago. The Dispatch, which came later, absorbed the Advocate in May 1949. Over time, the Dispatch has had a succession of owners, including current owner Dan Pulcrano of the Silicon Valley-based Weeklys, who bought in 2014.
Times are tough for local newspapers/media. Online services like Google, Facebook and cable news have shut down 2,000 daily newspapers since 2004, a staggering 1 in 5, and the number of journalists has been cut in half. Readers now find themselves in a decimated media landscape. Digital media like Facebook and Google feature stories, but typically they will only feature stories about high-profile crimes and business closures.
If not for the local newspaper/media, who will consistently tell the good stories of our community and convey all the wonderful things about Gilroy to the outside world? Local media are the eyes to the soul of a community. They are our ambassadors to the outside world. Without them, the world will only see Gilroy through the narrow lenses of outside news services and social media that typically focus only on the negative. If an outside company was considering locating in Gilroy, they would likely Google us first. Besides business closures, crime stories, and national news like the Garlic Festival tragedy, what would they find? So much for our economic development efforts!
What happens when a community loses its local newspaper? A recent Notre Dame study found that when a community loses its newspaper, it can expect the cost to government to increase by 30% within five years. Not that all governments are terrible, but they tend to spend more than they otherwise would without oversight. Do you remember Bell, California? Well, it was a town without a local newspaper.
The loss of the local newspaper/media also leads to a decrease in civic engagement and the community begins to lose its identity. In a Nieman Journalism Lab report, Lee Shaker of Portland State commented, “If a community loses its journal, it ceases to be its proper place. It becomes a satellite of something else, rather than having its own core identity.
National polls show that most believe their local newspaper/media is doing well financially. The truth is that most face difficult and potentially crippling economic headwinds. Business closures forced by Covid-19 have drastically reduced advertising, the main source of income for local newspapers/media.
How can you help ensure the survival of our local newspaper/media? First, become a subscriber. Second, if you are a local business, advertise in these publications. Newspapers/print media still reach 30-60% of their community’s audience, especially among the 45-50 year olds who have the highest disposable income; are the most likely to vote in local elections and still take the form of ‘ink on paper’ reading. Finally, support local businesses that advertise locally. Let them know that you saw their ad in the local newspaper/media and that was the reason that brought you to their business.
Alternatively, local media must work with local businesses to market a reinvented hyper-local strategy creating rewards and incentives for hyper-local spending. Editorial and narrative content must constantly educate and persuade the community of the benefits of spending money hyper-locally. Together, local businesses and local newspapers/media must work on strategies that create win-win results. While media companies need the business community to thrive and advertise in their publications, the business community needs newspapers/media companies to help change the buying habits of the community. If the shopping mentality in big box stores, national chains and digital is not changed, both face a very bleak future.
Small businesses and local newspapers/media have traditionally supported each other resulting in a more resilient and stronger community as money was recirculated back into the local economy rather than being hijacked by distant business interests . Time is short and essential. It is high time for the local business community to once again embrace and support our local newspapers/media. In turn, local newspapers/media should promote hyper-local shopping at every opportunity.
United, we will stand. Divided, the two will surely fall.
Gary Walton is a former banker with 38 years of experience as a general contractor and is the current President of the Gilroy Downtown Business Association and Vice President of the Miller Red Barn Association.