Broadcast Licenses Returned to FCC
Since purchasing the opportunity to steward your newspaper (The Plainsman Herald), we have more than once asked the question, “In the digital world, how much longer can a print publication stay relevant? I have commented to some of you that because of the pressures of online news entities and loss of advertising opportunities to Google and Facebook, the ability for a small rural publication such as this to continue into the future is questionable. The fact is, at some point we might have to face the reality that we, Lonesome Prairie Publications, might be the ones who are forced to lay this 136 year old publication to rest. Not because we want to, but as Bob Dylan once sang, “Times are a changin”.
An interesting reminder of the precarious position of local news and content came about this past week when news broke this past week that the most local radio stations KLMR and KLMR, the Giant of the High Plains, are surrendering their FCC licenses after their studio building and AM transmission facilities were destroyed by a microburst on July 23, 2022. Even Wikipedia states, “KLMR (920 kHz) was a radio station broadcasting a news/talk format.”
25/7 Media is surrendering the licenses of News/Talk 920 KLMR and Hot AC “93.5 The Heat” KLMR-FM Lamar CO.
According to RadioInsight.com, In a statement to the FCC, the station’s engineer wrote, “Studios are a complete loss. Unable to restore service for both KLMR-AM (920) & KLMR-FM (93.5) 25-7 Media requesting to cancel both licenses, return spectrum, and release call letters.” The owners told Radio World in July, “Our insurance company believes the building could be a total loss. We should know about that within the next few days. What hasn’t helped is that we have had storms every night since.”
The Aaron Leiker led 25-7 Media acquired the stations and two in nearby La Junta in February 2018 for $400,000. 1400 KBLJ and 92.1 KTHN La Junta were sold earlier this year to Thunder Media for $275,000.
The loss of KLMR and KLMR-FM leaves Beacon Broadcasting Country 105.7 KVAY as the only commercial FM audible in the Lamar area. KVAY Owner/GM/afternoon host Bob DeLancey owned 33 percent of 25-7 Media, while his daughter Janee Queen held a 16 percent stake.
The report has been accompanied by a plethora of online chatter and commentary, which ironically reinforces the notion that times are changing for local news, and it brings a personal reminder that the only reason this paper is still rolling off the presses, is that you the readers and advertisers of this local paper have shown a commitment to keeping this publication, The Plainsman Herald, alive.
Some of the comments on social media about the loss of these Lamar radio stations are similar to what we see written about the death of local newspapers. One commenter on a Lamar Facebook page lamented the loss which I suspect man Baca Countians can easily relate to as follows, “Many memories listening when I was growing up out on our farm between Haswell and Eads. Driving tractor, driving back and forth to Lamar, etc. The sports roundup on Saturdays, listening to the interviews with local coaches!”
Another said, “The local radio station, like the local newspaper, served a welcome and valuable service back in the day. The services are still needed but the needs are not being met. Still waiting for the public service utility that will take their place. It could be a long time!”
They continued, “I don’t listen to radio news because it isn’t there (all music, all talk) or it’s just national headlines. I don’t read a newspaper because it’s ‘local’ to the big city to our east (we don’t count) and the national or international news is a day or two older than the TV evening news reports. A year ago I tried to get the local news I needed for Lamar and region from SECO and Prowers Journal online (the closest I could find to the coverage previously available in the Lamar Daily News), but the info I needed wasn’t there.
What I’m missing — and I’d guess my situation is pretty normal for someone who lives in any area outside the big city markets — is information about town services, politics, schools, civic organizations and their activities, school sports, candidates for local and state offices, retail opportunities including openings, going out of business, and sales — in general the web of people, places, and things that make a group of people who live in proximity to each other into a community.
Given today’s technology online is certainly the way to go, but you have to follow many different websites to get even a fraction of the useful information carried in a daily newspaper of three decades ago. And you’re sure to miss something that you would have loved to know because you didn’t know it was there so you didn’t look.
These are certain poignant & relevant words about what local news has lost, what local news has become and what the Plainsman Herald of 2022 strives to be.
We have no purpose if we do not bring you Baca County commissioners minutes, town council minutes, school news and pictures, hospital news, writing of locals and and other activities that are not covered anywhere else.
Online raiding, in particular Google and Facebook’s raiding of classified and other revenue have all but ensured that print news will never create the affluent news baron of the past. It may only ensure a more rapid demise of local news. Newspapers such as this one only hope to fill a niche not covered anywhere else and hope that the local content is rich enough to encourage advertisers and subscribers to stay with us.
Thanks again to those of you who have supported this local news outlet. It is not just helpful but necessary to keep this paper financially viable. No promises, but hopefully, we can keep the presses rolling a while longer for hyper local Baca County and surround area news.
As we have previously brought you content about the precarious state of local news we recently received the 2022 state of local news report published by Northwestern University. Our discussion of loss of local news across the nation usually refers to print, but the announcement this past week of the loss of local radio KLMR and KLMR – FM radio stations make it especially appropriate.
This is a nation increasingly divided journalistically, between those who live and work in communities where there is an abundance of local news and those who don’t. Invariably, the economically struggling, traditionally underserved communities that need local journalism the most are the very places where it is most difficult to sustain either print or digital news organizations.
The loss of local journalism has been accompanied by the malignant spread of misinformation and disinformation, political polarization, eroding trust in media, and a yawning digital and economic divide among citizens. In communities without a credible source of local news, voter participation declines, corruption in both government and business increases, and local residents end up paying more in taxes and at checkout.
This is a crisis for our democracy and our society. Troubled by the potential consequences, journalists, policymakers, philanthropists, industry executives, scholars and concerned citizens have stepped up efforts to save local news. Philanthropic donors, as well as venture capitalists, are funding more journalistic endeavors. Government officials are considering new regulations and public subsidies to address the issue. And many newspapers and digital organizations are adapting and finding success, especially in larger markets or affluent communities, where there are more funding options.
Newspapers are continuing to vanish at a rapid rate. An average of more than two a week are disappearing. Since 2005, the country has lost more than a fourth of its newspapers (2,500) and is on track to lose a third by 2025. Even though the pandemic was not the catastrophic “extinction-level event” some feared, the country lost more than 360 newspapers between the waning pre-pandemic months of late 2019 and the end of May 2022. All but 24 of those papers were weeklies, serving communities ranging in size from a few hundred people to tens of thousands. Most communities that lose a newspaper do not get a digital or print replacement. The country has 6,380 surviving papers: 1,230 dailies and 5,150 weeklies.
Digital alternatives remain scarce, despite an increase in corporate and philanthropic funding. Over the past two years, the number of new digital-only state and local news sites, 64, slightly exceeded the number of sites that went dark. In 2022, there are 545 digital-only state and local sites; most employ six or fewer full-time reporters. Each state has at least one digital-only outlet. However, even established local digital news organizations often fail to attract the monthly traffic of television and local newspaper sites, somewhat diminishing the impact of the stories they produce. Four out of ten local sites are now nonprofit, supported by a combination of grants, sponsorship and donations. But whether nonprofit or for-profit, the vast majority of those sites are located in larger cities, leaving much of the rest of the country uncovered.
More than a fifth of the nation’s citizens live in news deserts—with very limited access to local news—or in communities at risk of becoming news deserts. Seventy million people live in the more than 200 counties without a newspaper, or in the 1,630 counties with only one paper—usually a weekly—covering multiple communities spread over a vast area. Increasingly, affluent suburban communities are losing their only newspapers as large chains merge underperforming weeklies or shutter them entirely. However, most communities that lose newspapers and do not have an alternative source of local news are poorer, older and lack affordable and reliable high-speed digital service that allows residents to access the important and relevant journalism being produced by the country’s surviving newspapers and digital sites. Instead, they get their local news—what little there is—mostly from the social media apps on their mobile phones.
Interestingly Baca County is still listed as a News Desert in this report. We have contacted them to note that we are at this point still alive, but to no avail.
The surviving newspapers—especially the dailies—have cut staff and circulation significantly as print revenues and profits evaporated. This has sharply reduced their ability to provide news to communities that lose a weekly newspaper, further exacerbating an information gap not only in rural areas, but also in suburbs surrounding a city. Since 2005, when newspaper revenues topped $50 billion, overall newspaper employment has dropped 70 percent as revenues declined to $20 billion. Newsroom employment has declined by almost 60 percent, with on-staff photographers declining by 80 percent. Only employees in production and distribution and advertising sales fared worse on a percentage basis than journalists. Accountants and operational managers, charged with making sure expenses did not exceed revenue as profits plummeted, had the most job security.
The largest chains control the fate of many of the nation’s surviving newspapers. Their business strategies and decisions continue to shape the local news landscape. Recent research has shown that, even in their diminished state, newspapers still provide most of the news that feeds our democracy at the state and local level. So, who owns the country’s newspapers has a profound impact on the abundance—or absence—of local news. As the number of newspapers has declined, consolidation has increased. The largest chains—most of which are either owned by or indebted to hedge funds, private equity groups or other investment firms—have been the most aggressive in buying and selling newspapers and in shuttering unprofitable ones when they cannot find a buyer. Even after selling and shuttering 120 newspapers over the past two years, Gannett, the country’s largest chain, still owns 494 papers in 42 states. The largest 10 chains own more than half of all dailies, including some of the country’s largest and most prestigious. The largest 25 chains own a third of all newspapers, including 70 percent of all dailies. Less than a third of the nation’s 5,147 weeklies and only 10 of the 100 largest circulation dailies remain independent.
There is a new—often overlooked—media baron on the scene, aggressively buying dailies and weeklies in small and mid-sized markets. While recent headlines have focused on the strategic maneuverings of the largest chains—Gannett, Lee, Tribune and Alden, which own most of the newspapers in the country’s largest markets—privately owned regional chains have snapped up dozens of newspapers shed by the mega-chains, as well as smaller family-owned enterprises. Two-thirds of the 90 papers Gannett has sold in the past two years were snapped up by two regional chains, CherryRoad Media and Paxton. Six of the 10 largest owners in 2022 are regional chains, with between 49 and 142 papers in their growing empire. Three of the largest regional chains did not exist a decade ago, while the other three have been family-operated for generations. Since 2020, the most acquisitive have been: the New Jersey-based CherryRoad Media, founded in 2020, which owns 71 papers in 12 states mostly in the Midwest; the 125-year-old, Kentucky-based Paxton Media which owns 120 newspapers in 10 Southern and Midwestern states; and the West Virginia-based Ogden Newspapers, founded in 1890, which owns 101 papers in 18 states stretching from New Hampshire to Hawaii.
Dailies are becoming more like weeklies, and vice versa, but their business models and strategies are diverging. Daily papers used the pandemic and the subsequent economic slowdown to begin aggressively transitioning their readers to digital delivery. The daily newspaper– printed and delivered seven days a week—has already disappeared in many markets. Forty-two of the largest 100 papers in the country now deliver a print edition six or fewer times a week; 11 publish a print edition only one or two or times a week and e-editions on the other days. Meanwhile, many weeklies and non-dailies have begun supplementing their print editions by publishing daily subscriber email newsletters and routinely updating their websites. While thousands of weeklies have folded since 2005, those in relatively affluent and growing markets maintain strong cash flow and still are able to command multiples of four to five times annual earnings when they are sold. In contrast to large dailies, which rely on subscribers for more than half of their revenue, weeklies continue to receive the majority of their revenue from local businesses who buy advertising and services from them and sponsor their various print and digital publications.
Despite the recent increase in both corporate and philanthropic funds, the footprint of digital-only news sites is small, and predominantly a big-city phenomenon. With staffing levels more typical of weeklies in small and mid-sized markets, successful sites must be very strategic about the issues they choose to cover and how they raise money to support their mission. Although there continues to be considerable turnover, especially among for-profit sites, approximately 100 of the 525 active sites in 2022 were founded more than a decade ago. Today, the vast majority of for-profit sites are very locally focused and tend to rely on both subscriber and advertiser funding in the markets where they are located. Most state and regional sites are nonprofit and focus on issues—such as politics, health, the environment and education—that attract the support of donors and major community and philanthropic foundations. The lack of access to high-speed internet in many communities often limits the reach and impact of the journalism produced by both nonprofit and for-profit sites.
The disparity between communities that have strong news organizations and those that don’t is primarily the result of market demographics, ownership structure and available funding. Whether print or digital, local news organizations that have entrepreneurial owners and are in affluent and/or growing communities with diverse sources of funding are much more likely to establish and maintain a successful for-profit, nonprofit or hybrid enterprise. Economically struggling and traditionally underserved communities—where residents need journalists providing transparency and oversight of local government and business decisions—are the ones most likely to lose a news organization and be overlooked by funders looking to invest in both for-profit and nonprofit news operations. That loss of local journalism exacerbates political, cultural and economic divisions between and within communities.
Getting news to those communities that have lost the news involves rethinking both current journalistic practices—as well as for-profit, nonprofit and public funding policies at the national, state and local levels. Recent legislative, philanthropic, university and industry initiatives contemplate a range of solutions—including public funding of local news, journalistic collaboration by news organizations, experimentation with new nonprofit and hybrid business models, and investments in alternative news options that target new audiences. Yet, there is much that still needs to be addressed over the coming decade. Extensive research has documented the interrelated issues that arise when local news dies or withers on the vine. Without the development of new commercial models—as well as increased nonprofit and public funding—the nation faces the prospect of local news being available only in affluent and growing communities, where residents can afford to pay for it.
Strong local news helps us understand those whose experiences and attitudes are different from us, and, in the process, brings us together to solve our most pressing political, economic and social problems. It binds our vast nation of 330 million people together, nurturing both democracy and community. Everyone in the country has a stake in the future of local news, in whatever form it is delivered.