By: Joe St. George
Scripps Media, Inc.
SPENCER, W.Va. — For decades, before television and online subscriptions, newspapers were the only way news got delivered.
“We put emphasis on everything that’s local,” David Hedges, the publisher of Spencer Newspapers in Roanne County, West Virginia, said.
Spencer believes publications like his are especially important in smaller communities.
“People want and need information about their local community,” Hedges said.
But Hedges admits getting his weekly newspaper out isn’t easy.
His wife helps run the newsroom and his son runs the printing press.
In addition to being the publisher, Hedges writes and photographs the stories too.
Since 2004, around 1,800 newspapers across the country have shut down and more than 100 have stopped printing since the start of the pandemic.
“Not every week is a money-maker,” Hedges said.
But there is an idea in Congress to save local papers.
The Local Journalism Sustainability Act would create a tax credit to offset subscription costs. A version of it was included in the Build Back Better Act.
It would provide tax incentives for businesses to advertise with local news.
A tax credit would also be offered to media companies to pay for a portion of a reporter’s salary.
The National Association of Broadcasters says local television stations could be eligible for benefits as well.
But are small town papers worth saving?
Don Smith, a member of the West Virginia Press Association, is lobbying Congress for a vote next year.
“We aren’t looking for a bailout but there has been a lot of assistance to a lot of people,” Smith said.
He believes if help doesn’t come soon, journalists like Dave Hedges will cease to exist.
“If it wasn’t for Spencer Newspapers, there is no news coverage here,” Smith said.
“Nobody would be better off if their newspaper closed,” he added.