In March 1870, the California state legislature approved an act allowing Gilroy to incorporate and become a full-fledged city. The Gilroy Advocate, our first newspaper, began publishing a weekly edition only a year earlier. The Dispatch, which came later, absorbed the Advocate in May 1949. Over time, the Dispatch has had a succession of owners, including the current owner, Dan Pulcrano of the Silicon Valley-based Weeklys, who purchased it in 2014.
Times are difficult for local newspapers/media outlets. Online services like Google, Facebook, and cable news have resulted in the closure of 2,000 daily newspapers since 2004, a staggering 1 in 5, and the number of journalists has been reduced by half. Readers are now left in a decimated news landscape. Digital outlets like Facebook and Google feature stories, but generally, they will only feature articles on high-profile crime and business closings.
If not for the local newspaper/media, who will consistently tell our community’s good stories and convey all the wonderful things about Gilroy to the outside world? Local news outlets are the eyes into a community’s soul. They are our ambassadors to the outside world. Without them, the world will only see Gilroy through the narrow lenses of external news services and social media that generally focus only on the negative. If an outside company were to consider locating to Gilroy, they would most likely first Google us. Besides business closings, crime stories, and national news stories like the Garlic Festival tragedy, what would they find? So much for our economic development efforts!
What happens when a community loses its local newspaper? A recent Notre Dame study found that when a community loses its newspaper, it can expect the cost of government to increase by 30% within five years. Not that all government is terrible, but they tend to spend more than they otherwise would without oversight. Remember Bell, California? Well, that was a city without a local newspaper.
Losing the local newspaper/media also results in less civic engagement, and the community begins to lose its identity. In a Nieman Journalism Lab report, Portland State’s Lee Shaker commented, “If a community loses its newspaper, it stops being its own place. It becomes a satellite of something else, rather than having its own core identity.”
National polling reflects that most believe their local newspaper/media are doing fine financially. The truth is that most face challenging and potentially crippling economic headwinds. Business shutdowns forced by Covid-19 have significantly reduced advertising, the primary source of revenue for local newspapers/media.
How can you help ensure that our local newspaper/media survives? First, become a subscriber. Second, if you are a local business, advertise in these publications. Print newspaper/media still reach 30-60% of their community’s audience, especially in the above 45-50 crowd who have the most disposable income; are most likely to cast a ballot in local elections, and still embrace the “ink on paper” form of reading. Lastly, support local businesses that advertise locally. Let them know that you saw their ad in the local newspaper/media, and it was the reason that brought you into their business.
Alternatively, local media needs to work with local businesses to market a re-imagined hyper-local strategy creating rewards and incentives for hyper-local spending. Editorial and story content should consistently educate and persuade the community of the benefits of spending their dollars hyper-locally. Together, local businesses and the local newspaper/media outlets need to work on strategies that create win-win results. While the media companies need the business community to thrive and advertise in their publications, the business community needs the newspaper/media companies to help change the shopping habits of the community. If the mentality of shopping at big boxes, national chains, and digital is not altered, both face a very bleak future.
Small businesses and local newspapers/media have traditionally supported each other resulting in a more resilient, stronger community because money was being re-circulated in the local economy rather than being pirated off by far-off corporate interests. Time is short and of the essence. It is well past the time for the local business community to embrace and support our local newspaper/media outlets once again. In turn, the local newspaper/media outlets need to promote hyper-local shopping at every opportunity.
United, we will stand. Divided, both will most assuredly fall.
Gary Walton is an ex-banker with 38 years of experience as a General Contractor and is the current President of the Gilroy Downtown Business Association and Vice President of the Miller Red Barn Association.