When the 500 copies of the four-page first edition of the Lancaster Journal were printed on a hand-operated English wooden press in an office at Euclid’s Head tavern, on West King Street at the current site of LNP Media Group’s offices, William Hamilton and Henry Willcocks did not envision their newspaper would begin a legacy that is approaching its 225th anniversary. If they had, they would have likely set aside a copy of that first edition for posterity.
Instead, they kept a copy of their first anniversary edition, perhaps because they knew the perilousness of their endeavor.
Before Hamilton and Willcocks entered the newspaper business in 1794, as many as 20 different newspaper titles had been published in Lancaster. At least one had the backing of Benjamin Franklin, the Philadelphia printer whose portrait is on the $100 bill, but not because of his success (or lack of it) in newspapers in Lancaster.
Five years later, William and Robert Dickson used their own hand press to publish the first issue of the Lancaster Intelligencer & Weekly Advertiser. After 40 years of operating independently, the Journal and Intelligencer papers merged in 1839.
By 1899, 150 daily newspapers served readers in Pennsylvania. All were family-owned. A century later, only a third of those newspapers remained, and many of them are no longer family-owned.
The digital age
When the World Wide Web was created in the 1980s, few people imagined that many of us would be carrying around smartphones that would contain computers more powerful than those that helped NASA guide our astronauts to the moon and back.
Newspapers joined many others in failing to see the future of the internet beyond its capacity to help disseminate journalism to a wider audience. Today, the internet has changed the business model of the newspaper business forever.
This changing environment is prompting even more family newspaper owners to leave the business. Today, only eight families own community newspapers in Pennsylvania. Lancaster’s Steinman family is one of them.
What has occurred in Pennsylvania is also taking place across America. Three large organizations — Gatehouse, Gannett and Digital First — together own nearly 400 of our nation’s remaining community newspapers. These three organizations have institutional investors to satisfy, often at the expense of local journalism.
In the name of efficiency and productivity, they homogenize their work and provide more general news than local journalism. The result is that the number of journalists working in newsrooms across the country has dropped by nearly 50 percent in the past 11 years. Gannett, for example, has an average of fewer than 25 reporters in the newsrooms of its 109 newspapers, which equates to about 12.5 percent of the staff of reporters and correspondents LNP has covering Lancaster County.
At the same time, other internet-based news organizations are popping up and seeking to supplant what had been a vibrant newspaper ecosystem. However, many of them lack the rigorous journalism to ensure the integrity of their content.
A recent survey by the Pew Research Center revealed that 82 percent of Americans have confidence in information provided from professional local news outlets. By contrast, only a third trust the information they get from social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
The landscape here
Lancaster County is not immune to these changes. For the past 224 years, LNP and its predecessors have done a remarkable job of managing their way through change and providing service to our community.
The impact of LNP’s work is quantifiable. A recent study by professors from the University of Notre Dame and the University of Illinois at Chicago examined the effect of local newspaper closures on public finance for local governments. Their study found that municipal borrowing costs increased by 5 to 11 basis points (1 basis point equals one-hundredth of 1 percent) because of “the loss of monitoring that results from newspaper closures.”
Let’s put this in real terms. Lancaster County and the 60 municipalities, dozens of authorities and 16 public school districts here hold nearly $2.6 billion in debt. Eleven basis points on that debt equals nearly $2.9 million that may have been saved because of the LNP’s role as community watchdog.
Today, thanks to the many and varied sources of information, we as a community often have trouble determining the truth. As Carl Bernstein, the former Washington Post reporter who was part of the reporting team that unraveled Watergate, has said, journalists must strive to provide “the best obtainable version of the truth.”
That is what our 200 reporters and correspondents strive to provide every day. By doing so, we help our communities engage in fact-based debates over what is in our best interests.
Ensuring the future
To ensure that we continue to be able to deploy trained professional journalists, we must take steps to protect our financial viability. Unlike other newspaper organizations, we do not plan to reduce the number of people in our newsroom, reduce the number of days we publish a print edition, or sell our news organization to an investor who may not know the difference between Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and Lancaster, Ohio.
We will, however, begin charging for our journalism regardless of how you get it.
The reporting from our newsroom requires journalists to write, review and disseminate. Just as people pay for subscriptions to our printed product, you will be asked to pay for our journalism distributed in digital form.
Our print subscribers will be able to access our suite of digital products, including our website, digital replica edition and electronic newsletters as an additional value.
Those who do not subscribe to our printed newspapers will be asked either to subscribe to our newspaper or purchase a digital subscription that will provide them with access to all of LNP and LancasterOnline’s digital products.
By making this change, we are taking steps to make sure that we will be a vibrant and vital source of news and information to Lancaster County for decades to come.
Robert M. Krasne is publisher of LNP and LancasterOnline, and chairman and CEO of Steinman Communications.