The print media landscape locally is shifting as two area newspapers likely face changes. The StarNews starts the new year with a merged parent, and Lumina News is seeking financial support to keep publishing.
Lumina News, which since 2002 has covered the Wrightsville Beach area with its weekly publications, is in a precarious situation, according to owner and publisher Terry Lane.
On Dec. 31, Lane published an “urgent” bulletin telling readers that unless Lumina could engineer a sale or find new sources of revenue, the newspaper would likely cease print publication with Thursday’s [Jan. 9] issue. Lane added that Lumina News would continue as an online news outlet for as long as possible, but even that future was uncertain to him.
Lane has owned the weekly paper since February 2017, and, while publishing a local weekly was “a dream come true,” it has been an overwhelming job, he said.
“Over the past three years I have learned many things about being a newspaper publisher, but through it all, one overwhelming truth has emerged: it can’t be done solely through the efforts of one person,” he stated in his Dec. 31 message. “And for the most part, that’s what I’ve been trying to do.”
Lumina has legal ads to buoy it. But it must meet criteria to keep them, which means it must publish in print 51 weeks a year. It also must publish in broadsheet, not tabloid, format; it must have paid subscribers and a mail subscription list, and it must have a business office.
Reached for comment Thursday, Lane said that the paper was doing pretty well until Hurricane Florence devastated Wrightsville Beach, affecting not only the newspaper but also many local small businesses that were current or prospective advertisers. And the storm cost him his “capable” assistant, whom he could not afford to keep on. Since then, he has run Lumina News pretty much on his own.
Lane said he has had some response to his Dec. 31 announcement.
“I did get a bunch of outreach,” he said. “I’ve had several meetings and follow-up phone calls. The fact that the legal ads make it desirable ... has brought some people out who want to talk about it, but I’m not sure what that will result in.”
Lane said he’s exploring the possibility of having the paper take a one-week hiatus this month, skipping its Jan. 16 issue but coming back on Jan. 23, and trying to keep the paper going so another party could come in, potentially as a financial and operational partner. Taking a week off from writing and publishing the paper, he said, would give him more time to pursue opportunities.
Lumina News’ owner said he is a strong believer in the importance of community news and would be unhappy if Wrightsville Beach were left without a newspaper to keep residents informed. He believes the local community shares this feeling.
“I have felt warmly embraced by Wrightsville Beach the whole time [since purchasing the newspaper],” he said. “They wanted to help me from the get-go. I have wanted to try to keep it alive as long as I could; see if there was any help out there – to try and cobble together a coalition to keep this going.”
The fate of community news is one topic of discussion as the StarNews’ ownership changes. Since last August, when New Media Investment Group, parent of GateHouse Media, which owned the StarNews, announced it was purchasing Gannett Media, there has been considerable national speculation on what would result from the merger. The new combined company, known as Gannett Co. Inc., owns about 265 media outlets nationwide and became the second-largest newspaper chain in the country through the deal.
In an Aug. 5 memo to employees, Gannett officials stated they saw “significant opportunities” resulting from the proposed merger to accelerate the company’s existing digital transformation. The memo also noted the prospective merged company would have an “expansive journalism network of national and local reporters with the resources required to deliver unique and award-winning content for local communities and national audiences.”
Industry watchers, however, have questioned the extent of those resources. In its announcement of the merger close, a Nov. 19 story
in Gannett flagship newspaper USA Today stated: “New Media’s purchase of Gannett, using a combination of cash and stock, was valued at approximately $1.1 billion as of Monday’s market close, according to a regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. That was down from about $1.4 billion when the deal was announced in August because of a decline in New Media’s stock price.”
New Media borrowed $1.8 billion from Apollo Global Capital to finance the merger.
Layoffs also took
affect at some of the newspapers in the wake of the merger.
According to officials and as indicated in the Aug. 5 memo to Gannett employees, the newly merged company will work to increase its digital operations in an effort to increase revenues. That will be a steep hill to climb from the combined companies’ current revenues from digital sources, which represent about one quarter of total revenues, according to a story published by Poynter Institute for Media Studies, a journalism training center and research organization.
The StarNews in the past decade has undergone several ownership changes, from The New York Times Regional Media Group to Halifax Media Group to New Media in 2014
What does the merger mean for the StarNews and, ultimately, for the community?
Pam Sander, the company’s Southeast regional editor and StarNews executive editor, commented via email Thursday.
"With the closing happening late last year, we are using the first few months of 2020 to work through a lot of the details for sharing content and doing more in-depth journalism, in print and online. We have hundreds of wonderful newspapers to consider, many only an hour or two from each other, but they are on different systems and come into this with different processes and workflows."
Some newspapers are already collaborating and sharing with each other, Sander said.
“For example, with the addition of Greenville and Anderson, SC, and Asheville newspapers in our Carolinas fold, we have tremendous opportunities for readers in Western Carolinas, where legacy GateHouse has Spartanburg, SC, Gastonia, Shelby and Hendersonville," Sander wrote. "Over the past two weeks, they have come together in a remarkable way with our combined Louisiana and Alabama newspapers to cover the Clemson-LSU National Championship for all of us."