LNP | LancasterOnline once again is being printed in Lancaster County — on a press in the East Lampeter Township facility of Susquehanna Printing, a wholly-owned subsidiary of LNP Media Group. In May 2015, Steinman Communications shifted production of LNP | LancasterOnline from downtown Lancaster to a regional printer in Mechanicsburg because its old press had become obsolete and difficult to maintain. As LNP | LancasterOnline’s Chad Umble reported Tuesday, “With the return to Lancaster County, LNP’s production becomes part of a state-of-the-art operations center that combines printing of local and regional publications with a packaging and mailing facility. In addition to LNP, the press also prints Lancaster Farming, The Ephrata Review, The Lititz Record and the Elizabethtown Advocate. In addition to those Steinman publications, it runs ad circulars, religious newsletters, trade publications and weekly newspapers.”
Tuesday’s edition of LNP | LancasterOnline — the first to be printed in Lancaster County in five years — represented not just a milestone for this 226-year-old newspaper. And it was not just the material result of an investment of more than $12 million.
It was a declaration of faith in this newspaper’s future, in this newspaper’s commitment to this community.
“Building out a new press facility at a time where many local newspapers are either shuttering, downsizing or going fully digital is significant because it demonstrates that LNP Media Group and the Steinman family are committed to the printed product, which is still valued by our readers and advertisers,” said Caroline Muraro, president of LNP Media Group.
Newspapers are facing some very tough conditions.
On July 1, the 166-year-old Press & Journal of Middletown published its final issue — the paper’s owners said in their farewell that the weekly had been crushed by “advertising losses to the internet and the coronavirus pandemic’s devastating impact on local businesses.”
In the Sunday LNP | LancasterOnline Perspective section, we published an in-depth New York Times story examining the sad decline of the Pottstown Mercury, a once-flourishing newspaper that now has just one reporter covering the region’s dozen-plus municipal governments and school districts. In 2011, that newspaper’s owner was bought by a hedge fund called Alden Global Capital, which has wrung it dry of resources.
In that New York Times article, journalist Dan Barry wrote, “The economic paralysis caused by the pandemic has clobbered a newspaper industry already on the mat. With revenues plummeting, substantial layoffs, furloughs and pay reductions have followed in newsrooms across the country.
“Meanwhile, the hedge funds and private equity firms that own many newspapers often siphon away profits rather than reinvest in local journalism.”
Barry pointed to an exception: Lancaster, “where the Steinman family announced last year that it would forgo dividends and reinvest profits back into its newspaper, LNP. The publisher, Robert M. Krasne, said the company faced the same industry challenges but was committed to putting its readers first.”
Krasne reaffirmed that commitment this week when addressing the new printing facility. “The Steinman family’s commitment of capital to this project is further evidence of their dedication to the survival of local journalism in these challenging times,” he said.
How challenging are these times?
A report issued earlier this year by the University of North Carolina Hussman School of Journalism and Media notes that in the “15 years leading up to 2020, more than one-fourth of the country’s newspapers disappeared, leaving residents in thousands of communities — inner-city neighborhoods, suburban towns and rural villages — living in vast news deserts.”
And that was before COVID-19 — feared to be an “extinction-level event” for newspapers — simultaneously made local journalism even more essential and decimated local newspaper advertising revenues.
The loss of a community newspaper doesn’t just affect that newspaper’s employees. As the University of North Carolina report notes, researchers “have identified three ways strong local newspapers historically built a sense of community and trust in our democracy.” Their journalism set “the agenda for debate of important public policy issues,” and their editorials recommended specific actions to address those issues. Their advertising connected local businesses to local consumers, and so encouraged “regional economic growth.” And they nurtured “social cohesion and political participation by putting into local context issues that may have seemed to be national ones.”
During this pandemic, LNP | LancasterOnline news reporters have done rigorous reporting on the deaths in local nursing homes; on the economic fallout; on the health care workers seeking to save lives; on the local and state debate over reopening businesses after a prolonged shutdown.
And the LNP | LancasterOnline Editorial Board — which operates separately from the newsroom — has pushed for mask-wearing; transparency from the Wolf administration; science- and data-based decision-making from elected officials; and the creation of a county public health department. Do our editorials sometimes annoy, even anger, people in power? Yes, they do. But we write with the best interests of Lancaster County residents, not its elected officials, foremost in mind.
Communities without local newspapers — and their watchdog function of keeping elected officials transparent and accountable — suffer in tangible ways.
“When a community loses its newspaper,” the University of North Carolina report explains, “coverage of routine local government meetings almost always declines. Without a professional journalist covering those meetings, transparency and government efficiency also decline. Residents in those communities frequently end up paying higher taxes as the cost of government borrowing rises.”
And because residents are less informed about the issues important to their community, they are less likely to vote — which means there is a tangible harm to democracy, too.
In this presidential election year, amid a pandemic that continues to shape and threaten our lives, we’re grateful to be part of an organization that’s committed to local journalism. And we’re deeply grateful to the subscribers who share that commitment.
We wish other counties and cities were as fortunate.