In the debates about media policy, big stories and big companies dominate the discussion. But the audience fragmentation that is undermining traditional business models for large enterprises like Tribune, the New York Times, and large broadcast groups also is taking its toll in small town America.
I want to tell one of those stories today.
Boulder City, Nevada, is an enduring echo of FDR's New Deal. The small city just south of Las Vegas was entirely planned and built in 1932 by the Bureau of Reclamation to house thousands of workers recruited to build a power-producing dam on the Colorado River. The dam was later to be named after the Secretary of Commerce principally responsible for launching the project - Herbert Hoover.
Five years after the city was founded, in 1937, a daily newspaper was born in Boulder City - the Boulder City Daily News - and for 70 years it brought coverage of local news, sports, and events to the breakfast tables of a small city that became an oasis in the desert. Although the paper switched to weekly publication in 1949, the Boulder City News remained one of the strongest community newspapers in the country for many years.
In many ways, the Boulder City News was the prototypical small town, community paper. It was one of several media properties locally owned and operated by the Greenspun family of Southern Nevada. Under Greenspun ownership, the newspaper won numerous industry awards for excellence. Indeed, only two years ago, the Boulder City News took third place in the Newspaper of the Year competition for papers with circulations up to 10,000. The paper was acclaimed for its enterprise reporting, lively Arts & Style section, and strong editorial voice.
Sadly, at the end of October, Greenspun Media Group announced that the company was suspending publication of the Boulder City News and its sister paper in Henderson, Nevada. As the Las Vegas Sun noted in reporting the demise of the Boulder City News, the paper's "widely recognized editorial excellence was not enough to save [it] from the economic realities."
So where do we go from here? Who will now cover local news in Boulder City? Might one of the large Las Vegas papers publish a "Boulder City" insert for the area? But those papers, too, are suffering from decreased circulation and lost advertising revenues.
The production of news is not free, and it is not immediately clear where new sources of funding for high quality reportage will come from. Unfortunately, current restrictions on who may own broadcast properties limit the structural options available to media companies trying to adjust to the new economic realities. Critics of media freedom who advocate the retention of those restrictions in the name of "media diversity" might want to start asking whether, in the future, there will be any free media at all.