The newspaper this summer was stripped to a staff of exactly two editors, four reporters, two photographers, one sports correspondent and a secretary. The team will be expected to produce compelling, or at least convincing, coverage for two dozen separate and highly individual jurisdictions inhabited by some 705,000 residents spread over 741 square miles. The 10-person staff is about a fifth of the 48 editorial employees who worked there when MediaNews bought the paper a dozen years ago.
The Times is skinnier today than it was back then. Not only have its ad volume and physical heft declined, but its readership also has dropped by 42% to some 26k in daily circulation from about 40k at the time it changed hands. Thus, the paper’s penetration of the market has shrunk to barely 9.5% of the more than 266,000 households in the county. To try to turn the tide, the Times sells subscriptions to the daily and Sunday paper for a mere $20 for a whole year.
Although motorists can see the newspaper’s building from Highway 101, the structure is abandoned and up for sale. Before the staff departed for a rental office, production was moved to a MediaNews plant across San Francisco Bay, the presses were shipped off and intruders began stripping the building of its valuable copper fittings, according to former editor John Bowman, who resigned in 2004.
By the time the county historical society showed up to retrieve the leather-bound archives the Times had kept for years in a climate-controlled room, rodents had damaged the issues so badly that the volumes had to be destroyed. The climate controls had been turned off to save money.
Each time I drive past the cookie-cutter building on Central Avenue that now houses The Carthage Press, it reminds me of the damage GateHouse Media and Liberty Group Publishing have inflicted on a newspaper that for many years was a thriving part of the Carthage community and a worthy competitor to any newspaper in southwest Missouri.
Sadly, those times are but a fading memory.