What I had long anticipated has finally happened: The Manassas News & Messenger will cease operations at the end of December. I will not be mourning the loss, but rather looking forward to what will eventually step into the gap, as there is a strong demand for local news, plenty of advertisers who want to place ads, and as a quick perusal of the numerous local blogs in Prince William County would easily attest, no shortage of content to present. All it takes is leadership.
Leadership is what the News & Messenger lacked. Over the past decade it has been run into the ground by a group of folks that made the wrong decision every time they were confronted with a challenge. When readership started to fall, reducing revenues, their answer was to cut local news reporting and fluff out the paper with stories from wire services and affiliates in Virginia. Then the decision was made to make stories shorter, and print fewer pages. Fewer articles provided less information. Unsurprisingly, more readers walked away, starting another spiral of cost-cutting and content reduction which drove even more readers away.
The News & Messenger launched the InsideNova website to try to adjust to new realities, but it was pretty clear from the outset the effort was far more about creating a new platform to deliver advertisements than providing content. Navigation was painful with the quantities of ads that cluttered pages, and I often heard from people that the website was pretty much unusable because of it. For years content from the printed publication was delayed or didn’t even show up in the online edition, and their initial stab at allowing readers to comment on articles was a disaster as anonymous trolls thoroughly trashed the comment pages. Liking comments to facebook identities helped enormously in that regard, but by then plenty of readers had simply given up checking what was happening on the website. What could have been the path back to profitability for the paper became a dead end.
Meanwhile, local outfits like Patch and PotomacLocal are doing everything they can to increase content, and that’s where the readers have gone. Patch still has a way to go, but PotomacLocal has grown from a one man part-time operation to the point that there’s a growing full-time staff. A few years ago there was pretty much just this blog and Virginia Virtucon providing your political news and information, now there’s the Sheriff, Derecho, Al Alborn, and others joining the fray. Prince William Magazine started a couple of years ago, and they’re growing as well. Local news isn’t shrinking in the environment that has challenged the existence of the News & Messenger, it’s actually expanding. It just takes the right leadership to have local news publishers succeed.
Someone will step into the gap that the demise of the News & Messenger leaves, and they’ll be better, more relevant, more informative and financially successful. Their leadership and editors will better understand the community they serve, their focus will be on delivering quality content that readers very much want to read and can’t find elsewhere, and they will invent a new way of doing business that will far outshine the mediocrity and questionable value of what the News & Messenger has become. In order for that to happen, the News & Messenger had to be swept away.
It’s all good.
The opinions expressed here are solely the views of the author, and not representative of the position of any organization, political party, doughnut shop, knitting guild, or waste recycling facility, but may be correctly attributed to the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. If anything in the above article has offended you, please click here to receive an immediate apology.
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