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The News & Messenger Goes Bust

By Greg L | 14 November 2012 | Local Media | 18 Comments

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.



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18 Comments

  1. Pam Donica said on 14 Nov 2012 at 12:58 pm:
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    It’s a shame how much changed since I left the area. When I worked for the “Journal Messenger” back in the early 90’s, it was a solid, helpful piece of the community. How sad for it to be driven into the ground by poor management.

    I am honored to have learned the ropes with Benny Scarton at the helm of the newsroom. I gained great experiences from the newsroom to composing to circulation to classified and had the privilege of being the newsroom historian for past papers and having them sent off to be bound into books.

    At least I have great memories. Thanks for the article.

  2. Ted Edison said on 14 Nov 2012 at 1:33 pm:
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    I worked there when it was called The Journal-Messenger (June 1990-Octber 1993). It was my start in the newspaper business that lasted roughly 10 years, three of it in Manassas. As part of the Park Communications chain, I looked at the place as the Devil’s Island of newspapers … mainly because of the top management. I was able to witness a vibrant community that sought to maintain its small-town stature, despite aggressive neighbors to the north (no Civil War references intended … Fairfax and the District). The paper was an important part of that community. My relationship with it was a rocky one but, in the end, I learned a lot from the experience.

  3. Paul E. said on 14 Nov 2012 at 2:16 pm:
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    You’re kidding yourself if you think that the local blogs, which are good as far as they go, will have anywhere near the depth or impact of a newspaper staff. And no one is going to step into the breach. This will be a huge void. Not saying the News Messenger was a great journalistic outfit, but some information is better than none. The blogs you cite are all about politics. There’s more to our community than politics. But now there’s a lot we won’t know.

  4. Doug Brown said on 14 Nov 2012 at 2:26 pm:
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    Not to worry we now have the Manassas Connection.

    And the Sheriff of Nottingham may be looking to set up a Manassas substation, or so a little birdie told me.

  5. Greg L said on 14 Nov 2012 at 3:27 pm:
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    Paul, there certainly is a lot more news out there than politics. That just happens to be the first segment of news reporting that a number of Prince William County residents took up on their own. There’s space out there for local sports websites, business news, crime reporting and the rest to be picked up as well.

    Now that the N&M is leaving a vacuum on these, I anticipate plenty of folks will be filling that in, and some of them will undoubtedly do a better job at it since it’s hard to do much worse.

    I’d be interested to see who already is talking with World Media Enterprises about buying the InsideNova.com domain. Heck, I might even be interested in it for the right price…

  6. Wooden U. Lykteneau said on 14 Nov 2012 at 3:52 pm:
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    Wish I could agree with you Greg, but the next time a local newspaper closed and “plenty of folks fill[ed] in,” will be first. Patch? Please. It’s a glorified content farm and is riven with the same kind of drivel that you’d expect from un(der)paid, inexperienced wannabes who are making decisions based solely on metrics, not newsworthiness.

  7. Jon Wong said on 14 Nov 2012 at 6:10 pm:
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    Greg,
    Unfortunately Price William is going to become a news desert. Some of the blogs you have mentioned are focusing on the costs of a commode and sink in a county employee’s bathroom??? WTF???

  8. The_REAL_Elvis said on 14 Nov 2012 at 7:40 pm:
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    I’m not a huge N&M Fan by any means, but this will leave a gap in what news we have locally. it’s pretty pitiful and likely could have been avoided with better management practices, marketing and the like.

  9. Cynic said on 14 Nov 2012 at 8:39 pm:
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    http://www.moneynews.com/StreetTalk/Berkshire-buffett-Jobs-Newspaper/2012/11/14/id/464105

    Would guess that the parent company did not have sufficient resources to restore this media enterprise to a profitable level.

    Or was it providing too much competition to the Wash. Post?

  10. Anonymous said on 14 Nov 2012 at 9:47 pm:
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    Sure didn’t take long for someone to step into the gap…

    http://pwcnews.net

  11. Slightly Miffed said on 14 Nov 2012 at 10:46 pm:
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    http://pwcnews.net

    Good lord, that’s a terrible splash page. I doubt they will make a dent much less a difference with that weak start.

  12. Ray Beverage said on 14 Nov 2012 at 10:59 pm:
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    There are several creditable people over at the N&M who I feel regret their work is coming to an end locally.

    One possibility to fill the void may be the little Observor newspapers which pop up for free in your mailbox. I have commented to many I find more local news in the Manassas edition than I had in the N&M for the last couple of years. If the publisher is smart, it is time to start grabbing up the advertising dollars, expand to a more frequent edition, hire the staff and fill the void.

    Even if only publishing once a week like the Gainesville Times, it would still be a much better paper than the N&M has been.

  13. Doug Brown said on 14 Nov 2012 at 11:04 pm:
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    That’s one bridge too many for local news.

  14. Doug Brown said on 15 Nov 2012 at 1:45 am:
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    We can combine this thread with previous thread on the Lt Gov thread by checking out this thread on the Sheriff site:

    http://sheriffofnottinghampwc.blogspot.com/#!/2012/11/the-sheriff-hates-women-men-everybody.html

    Check out one of the last comments where David Montgomery informs us that Prince William County requested that the News & Messenger NOT publish a letter to the editor by Dr. Montgomery the Director of the Prince William Symphony concerning Mr. Wolfe’s activities.

    The News & Messenger complied with the county’s request to censor one of its own citizens.

    I think N&M ceased being a newspaper awhile ago.

    As for Mr. Stewart I hope he didn’t personally make that request, perhaps just a minion overhearing Mr. Stweart express his displeasure with Doctor Montgomery’s letter,

    “Will no one rid me of this Mendolsohn Conductor!”

  15. Anon said on 15 Nov 2012 at 9:37 am:
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    How will our Supervisors control the news without this outlet hmm? The N&M has played a part in misleading PWC citizens, not by lies, but by the sin of omission in the reporting of local issues. That is why they lost me as a subsrciber, and others as well I’m sure. They brought this upon themselves.

  16. Greg L said on 15 Nov 2012 at 2:46 pm:
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    I also noticed that Uriah Kiser at PotomacLocal will be opening a new site for Manassas called ManassasLocal.com. So far it just redirects to the original site, but I expect ManassasLocal.com will be up and operational pretty soon.

    PWCNews.net has more info about what they’re doing on their site here. Looks sort of like a paid crowdsourcing model, which could be interesting if it works.

    Sure looks like plenty of folks are swooping in to pick up the slack in Prince William County.

  17. Anonymous said on 15 Nov 2012 at 6:51 pm:
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    Gonna miss the daily rundown on muggings, armed holdups etc. and especially the sexual batteries on kids commited by our Latino (legal and illegal) neighbors in the area. It was/is the only news source as to what was/is happening in our community. As it was previously state, “it is/was better than nothing.

  18. Red, White ans Blue said on 9 Dec 2012 at 11:50 pm:
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    It is hard to believe that the leftist paper was abandoned by the leftist people who gave Obama Manassas and PWC. Where is the justice? And Warren Buffett wants higher taxes - he is going to get it.

    The old paper of years ago was a decent rag but the last 10 years have plagued the paper with one sided views. Another one bites the dust. I disagree with the void - it already existed. The illegals got little “fair”reporting and the truth was ignored for the most part. For the record, city happenings such as budgets and regular council meetings as well as school board meeings did not receive good coverage or a fair opinion.

    Too bad? Nope, it was their own fault for supporting a losing effort.

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