When investor and newspaper fan Warren Buffett bought the Media General newspaper chain last year, there was hope for all of them, including the Manassas News & Messenger and the Richmond Times-Dispatch.But Buffett’s company announced today it is shutting down the News & Messenger after 143 years, as well as its highly informative Web site, InsideNoVA.com. It is the only paper in the Media General chain being shuttered by World Media Enterprises, a division of Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
This is horrendous news for everyone in Prince William County and those who care about Prince William news. The News & Messenger and InsideNoVA are the definitive source of news in Prince William. Their reporters and editors work extremely hard to cover government, breaking news, high school sports, the latest lottery winners, everything.
InsideNoVA also has a Facebook page with more than 26,000 followers, and when they post stories there they get plenty of reaction . Reaction that isn’t standard anonymous-crazy comments because people must use their Facebook accounts to post, which makes a lot of sense.
World Media chairman Terry Kroeger told me this morning there was ”a lot of competition for the ad dollars.” I whined and complained about losing the biggest news source in a county of 400,000 people. “It is too bad,” Kroeger said. “We didn’t see a way to take the negative financial momentum and turn it positive. We didn’t take this lightly. We worked very hard to develop their plans, and we just could not get there.”
I pointed out that InsideNoVA had a large following on Facebook and seemed to be working well in the digital world. “They put a lot of emphasis on their digital products,” Kroeger said, “so their print circulation fell even further.” The print circulation is about 10,000.
When Buffett bought the 63 papers in the Media General chain, he said: “In towns and cities where there is a strong sense of community, there is no more important institution than the local paper. The many locales served by the newspapers we are acquiring fall firmly in this mold and we are delighted they have found a permanent home with Berkshire Hathaway.”
This is actually the closing of two newspapers, since the Potomac News and the Manassas Journal Messenger merged in 2008. World Media said all 33 people working for the paper and Web site would lose their jobs, along with 72 others in the Media General corporate structure.
There are a lot of talented and hard-working journalists at the News & Messenger and InsideNoVA and they deserve our respect and thanks. They didn’t deserve to be shut down after 143 years of public service.
UPDATE, 5:30 p.m., from Jeremy Borden in Manassas:
Prince William County Board Chairman Corey Stewart (R-At Large) said that he noticed that as the News & Messenger and Washington Post newsrooms have shrunk over the years, fewer people approached him to ask about county issues. He said residents are less informed about local issues than they once were.
“People will always be interested in local news,” Stewart said. “But where do you go for local news? Right now there just aren’t a lot of resources for that other than the local papers. As those are withering away, I’m not sure what’s going to replace them.”
Tracy Conroy, a parent who advocates on schools issues, said it’s likely that more people will start blogging to try to fill the void. But politicians and officials are often dismissive of blogs, she said, and the media has an authoritative voice that school leaders feel they must respond to.
“It’s really easy for the School Board...to say something without proving it,” Conroy said. “You [newspapers] back up everything you write as opposed to what you hear from politicians is really not backed up at all.”
As a result of the newspaper closing, she said, “I think it’ll become easier for the schools to become even less transparent.”