A LEGACY OF NEWS: The future of journalism may live on through family-owned newspapers.

Author:Peck, Gretchen A.
 
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The stories are familiar now. A longtime newspaper family decides to sell off their publications to a larger public corporation (which then slashes costs and lays off employees), or worse, a longtime newspaper family decides to shut down their 100-year-old paper after losing money for so many years. But that's not the story for all families that own newspapers. E&P spoke to a few of these privately held companies that are still going strong to discuss their challenges and their successes, and most importantly, how they plan to sustain their family legacy.

Investing in Future Generations

At the Sierra Vista, Arizona-based Wick Communications, local journalism is "the crux of the work we do," said Francis Wick, president and CEO, and a third-generation family owner.

The business was founded in 1926 by two brothers from the Wick family in Niles, Ohio. Their first newspaper title was the Niles Daily Times. Today, they publish newspapers in 11 states. The company is keenly focused on growing its digital audience, so that it can comfortably support the newsroom.

"Our family has been identified, for many generations now, with the work we do in serving the community through local, professionally written journalism," Wick said.

Across its titles, local journalism manifests in several ways, including general information news and community watchdog reporting, with regular coverage of local government, the school board, and other local organizations and businesses.

A particular strategic partnership enabled expanded coverage on an underreported topic. Wick shared that one of his Colorado daily newspapers partnered with a statewide nonprofit journalism organization to work on a story about trailer parks.

"We looked at the challenges that trailer parks impose--both the perceptional and literal--on a community," he said. "We really tried to bring some light to that issue, and we found a partner to work with us that could bring more state-wide and regional perspectives."

Wick newspapers are also reaching out to subject-matter experts--not just as sources, but as partners in the telling of the stories. Take the sensitive and serious matter of reporting on mental illness, for example.

"It's a topic that, whenever I engage with law enforcement from Anytown, USA, they immediately tell me that it's one of the leading drivers and challenges they face," Wick said. "They are not well resourced. In society, we discuss it, but we're not seeing a lot from a policy or leadership standpoint around it, and it's a fundamental challenge for our country and in the communities we serve.

"So, we reached out to different organizations to try to get some better understanding of what questions to ask and how to ask them," he continued. "These are the types of opportunities that allow you to bring awareness to a topic thanks to the right partnership."

Wick predicted that partnerships of this kind will become increasingly important to his and other news organizations.

One of the greatest operational challenges Wick faces is prioritizing and focusing resources. The end goal is to create content that's distinctive, useful and reliable.

"Our readers must be willing to pay for it," he said. "They must understand that it adds value to their lives and their community."

Which brings up another challenge: Survival. "Our biggest concern is that, if there's not local professional journalism taking place, we don't know what the alternative is to that," Wick said.

Wick also acknowledged that some of the cause for industry...

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