Sunshine Week: Part II of three
The death of the Daily Guide raises questions not easily answered, the same ones asked at newspapers big and small across the country.
Did GateHouse stop investing because people were less interested in reading the paper? Berrier said about 3,600 copies of the Daily Guide were printed in the mid-1990s. At the end, GateHouse was printing 675 copies a day.
Or did people lose interest because the lack of investment made it a less satisfying read?
“As the paper declined and got smaller and smaller, I felt that there wasn’t as much information that really made it worthwhile, so I did eventually stop” subscribing, said Keith Carnahan, senior pastor at Maranatha Baptist Church in St. Robert.
Berrier blames GateHouse, who he said “set the Daily Guide up to fail.” Others are less sure. Sanders, the former editor, and Joel Goodridge, another former publisher, blame both GateHouse and the community for not supporting the paper.
Goodridge said some businesses found they could advertise much more cheaply in free circulars dumped at local stores. He now works at a college in the nearby town of Rolla. His job at the Daily Guide was eliminated during the relentless downturn.
“When I first got into the newspaper business, it was intriguing, rewarding and I felt like I was doing something more than generating profits,” Goodridge said. “I felt like I was doing something for the community. As the years went by, it changed.”
GateHouse said the Daily Guide, like many smaller newspapers across the country, was hurt by a dwindling advertising market among national retailers. The paper supplemented its income through outside printing jobs, but those dried up, too, said Szachara, the GateHouse newspaper operations president.
Given an unforgiving marketplace, there’s no guarantee additional investment in the paper would have paid off, he said. Szachara said the decision was made to include some news about Waynesville in a weekly advertising circular distributed around Pulaski County.
“We were trying not to create a ghost town,” he said.
Residents of Waynesville are coming to grips with what is missing in their lives.
“Losing a newspaper,” said Keith Pritchard, 63, chairman of the board at the Security Bank of Pulaski County and a lifelong resident, “is like losing the heartbeat of a town.”
Pritchard has scrapbooks of news clippings about his three daughters; Katie was a basketball player of some renown at Drury University. He wonders: How will young families collect such memories?
The local state representative, Steve Lynch, would routinely cut out a story about people recognized in the paper, add a personal note, laminate it and send it to them — a savvy goodwill exercise.
Historians worry about what is lost to future generations. Many of the displays in a small museum of local history in St. Robert are stories retrieved from newspapers.
Residents talk with dismay about church picnics or school plays they might have attended but only learn of through Facebook postings after the fact.
“I miss the newspaper, the chance to sit down over a cup of coffee and a bagel or a doughnut ... and find out what’s going on in the community,” said Bill Slabaugh, a retiree. Now he talks to friends and “candidly, for the most part, I’m ignorant.”
Slabaugh acknowledges some complicity in the Daily Guide’s demise. He said he angrily stopped buying the paper when it wrote about a drag show at a local community center.
Beyond the emotions are practical concerns about the loss of an information source. The bank routinely checked the Daily Guide’s obituaries to protect against fraud; Pritchard said you’d be surprised by family members who try to clean out the accounts of a recently-deceased relative.
At a time when journalists and police are often at odds, it’s somewhat startling to hear local law enforcement unanimously express dismay at the loss of a newspaper.
Like many communities, Waynesville is struggling with a drug problem. The nearby interstate is an easy supply line for opioids and meth, police say. The four murders in Waynesville last year were the most in memory, and all were drug-related.
For painful, personal reasons, Pulaski County Sheriff Jimmy Bench wishes the Daily Guide was there to report on the December death of his 31-year-old son, Ryan, due to a heroin overdose. It would have been better than dealing with whispers and Twitter.
“Social media is so cruel sometimes,” Bench said.
Without a newspaper’s reporting, Police Chief Dan Cordova said many in the community are unaware of the extent of the problem. Useful information, like a spate of robberies in one section of town, goes unreported. Social media is a resource, but Cordova is concerned about not reaching everyone.
Local authorities still write news releases and, in the final days of the Daily Guide, the overworked staff often printed them verbatim — even giving front-page bylines to the marketing director for the Waynesville School District.
“I thought it was great,” said Waynesville School Superintendent Brian Henry, later adding: “Nobody’s really stepped in and filled exactly what we had with our newspaper.”
Posting press releases to official Facebook pages isn’t quite the same. County coroner Nick Pappas said readers are more suspicious of news releases than they would be of a fully reported news story.
“I’m not going to put out anything critical of myself out there,” said Hillman, the prosecuting attorney who just started his third term in the elective office. “I mean, that’s the truth. What politician is?”
Adam Yeomans of AP is sharing this Sunshine Week report about the decrease in local newspapers across the U.S. and the impact on local communities.
Associated Press Business writer Alexandra Olson in New York and video journalist Peter Banda, from Waynesville, contributed to this report.
Follow Dave Bauder at https://twitter.com/dbauder and David A. Lieb at https://twitter.com/DavidALieb