For over 160 years, the Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune has been the home of current affairs for Livingston County. But in recent years, like many other local newspapers across the country, staff shortages have resulted in a lack of local coverage, declining readership and loss of advertising revenue.
At the Constitution-Tribune, for example, community coverage was given to one person, who covered everything from news to sports.
“There were only two pages for local news,” said Angela Hutschreider, editor of the newspaper.
A month ago, the Constitution-Tribune got a new lifeline – or that’s hope. The Gannett-owned newspaper was bought by CherryRoad Media Inc., a tech company poised to acquire small rural print media. Although company executives have not disclosed details of the transaction, media analysts say CherryRoad Media’s acquisition of Constitution-Tribune, as well as three other small Missouri community newspapers, could represent a sort of rebirth for the local print media.
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, more than 90 local newsrooms have closed nationwide – most of which are weeklies in small communities with few competitors. Many have moved from paper to digital-only platforms. But in communities like Chillicothe, which lack robust internet connections, CherryRoad Media is betting that readers still find use in print news.
“In many rural communities the internet bandwidth is not great so there are a lot of people who just don’t have good access to online content and need the print newspaper,” Jeremy Gulban said. , CEO of CherryRoad.
Based in New Jersey, CherryRoad Media Inc. is a subsidiary of CherryRoad Technologies, a software modernization and consulting company. CherryRoad Media’s successful acquisition last year of the Cook County News Herald in Minnesota sparked a buying spree: the company bought 26 other small newspapers (in Missouri it also bought The Examiner, Boonville Daily News and the Linn County Leader) over the past several years. Media analysts say the purchases will not only help CherryRoad’s bottom line, but will also serve to preserve the oversight mission.
Gulban also says what is missing in small newsrooms owned by large national conglomerates – such as Gannett, which owned more than 1,000 local newspapers, in 2020 – is local content. “I think there was a feeling that newspapers were not really serving the community,” he said.
Randall Smith, professor of business journalism at MU, is not surprised that a tech company buys distressed articles. By creating local journalism and experimental investigative projects, CherryRoad has the potential to regain lost markets, he said.
“Small communities are hungry for news and all kinds of news,” Smith said.
Mark Maassen, executive director of the Missouri Press Association, is also optimistic about community newspapers. “Missouri has no information desert,” Maassen said. “There is a newspaper in every county in this state, and it’s not something that a lot of places can claim.”
An IT company like CherryRoad Media, Maassen said, could infuse digital tools into print media to make them more efficient and profitable. But first, he said, “they have to regain the public’s trust.”
To this end, CherryRoad Media meets with staff members and members of the local community to discuss ideas on improving their coverage, hiring new staff and evaluating how to leverage their technological strengths. to reinvigorate an old institution.
So far, Hutchschreider, who runs the Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune along with two other CherryRoad Media newspapers, is encouraged. “My experience has been very reassuring and invigorating,” she said. “I look forward to transforming paper, having more control and continuing to make paper a better product. “