Billionaire Warren Buffett has been buying up small newspapers around the county. His rationale, he explained according to Forbes, is that hyper-local news connects communities in ways that large news outlets are unable to. They provide readers with editorial content that focuses on local issues, allowing the public to engage on an unprecedented level.
In that same article Buffett said, “Newspapers continue to reign supreme in the delivery of local news. If you want to know what’s going on in your town – whether the news is about the mayor or taxes or high school football – there is no substitute for a local newspaper that is doing its job. A reader’s eyes may glaze over after they take in a couple of paragraphs about Canadian tariffs or political developments in Pakistan; a story about the reader himself or his neighbors will be read to the end. Wherever there is a pervasive sense of community, a paper that serves the special informational needs of that community will remain indispensable to a significant portion of its residents.”
That is what TownSquareBuzz.com has done for nine years. We have provided a forum for the public to speak their minds and share their concerns about local issues – issues that citizens of McKinney care about. We have focused on telling the stories of city government, of local sports and athletes, of local people and of local events.
But what Buffett sees as opportunity apparently isn’t true here in McKinney. It’s with great sadness and disappointment that I’m announcing that as of April 1, TSB will be closing its doors (unless someone like Buffett steps in to save the day!)
Here is what I’ve learned over nine years:
1. Out biggest competition is apathy and busyness.
Local residents often are too busy to care about local news. Even though when surveyed, they will say it’s important to them, when push comes to shove, citizens are indifferent. They are too busy to engage. The majority of McKinney’s residents don’t work here. They are faced with long, fatiguing commutes to and from work. They get home at the end of a harried work day, do household chores, spend time with their families, hit the bed and get up and do it all over again. The public doesn’t seem to have time to care unless an issue directly affects them in some way.
2. Being situated in a large metropolitan area is a blessing and a curse.
Larger potential advertisers such as auto dealers complain that TSB’s reach isn’t large enough (we don’t focus on the entire metropolitan area) and most small and medium businesses are stuck in the print paradigm. They simply don’t understand the reach they can command with digital advertising, nor do they have the time to educate themselves. Most small and medium businesses, although there are many in a large metropolitan area, are cash poor. Even when we make the sale, we often don’t get paid.
3. There is a lot of competition for small and medium business marketing dollars in large markets, which McKinney has become.
When I began my news company in 2005, I viewed the two local magazines and one struggling newspaper as our competition. Today, we are competing with a radio station in our backyard, numerous “magazines,” Groupon, zip code mailers and loyalty management systems, to name just some. Many of our local business owners still staunchly believe in print advertising, despite the decline of print and the enormous growth of online publications and advertising opportunities.
4. Social media outreach has become a major business in the last few years.
This didn’t exist when I started TSB nine years ago. Today, I hear a new sales objection from business owners – they have signed on to pay a social media consultant a monthly fee to promote their brand on the web. Small and medium businesses generally have a small marketing budget (if any) and they must choose where to spend those dollars.
5. Small business owners are constantly fighting off salespeople.
We have found that many small business owners get “cold calls” from an endless stream of salespeople. They are trying to run a business and don’t have time to spend listening to a variety of sales pitches. I get it – I have the same experience on a regular basis. It often takes years of building a relationship to make a sale.
6. Many readers care more about entertainment news than hard news.
There is a blurred line between hard news and entertainment news. Following the escapades of Justin Bieber is more interesting “news” to many than being up on why McKinney’s city manager resigned. It’s become more difficult to separate true journalism in this world of “anybody can slap up a website, write a blog and become a journalist.” Readers don’t know what is truth and what information they can trust. Often, they don’t care. If it’s written, they believe it.
7. Large readership no longer translates into revenue.
Although TSB grew to more than one million page views in 2012 and 2013, we were unable to translate that into advertising sales for reasons stated above. With a weekly average of 35,000 visits through our TSB Facebook page, we were still unable to convert enough of those readers to paying subscribers.
8. My staff, although small, still requires a paycheck. They have families to feed and obligations to meet.
No elaboration needed except to say that the bigger the staff of writers we are able to employ, the better our product. Those writers, photographers and salespeople all need to get paid. I have personally supported this endeavor — my passion for the truth and for information — for all these years.
I’m proud of what we have accomplished over the years. I strongly believe that news fosters the basic principles of the democratic process. Citizens must have the information necessary to make wise decisions about the people they elect and the policies they want those people to pursue. Without informed consent, the democratic basis of a free society rests on shaky ground.
Freedom of the press is to protect citizens, not the press. It’s the right of the people to have the information they need to make informed decisions about their government.
News outlets expose government misconduct, challenges government officials, and speaks the truth. Without TSB, will we as a community be losing a portion of our democracy?
For TSB readers, our Facebook page will remain active. We welcome posts and information.
If you purchased a yearly subscription, pro-rated refunds will be made within the next 30 days.
“Our liberty cannot be guarded but by the freedom of the press, nor that be limited without danger of losing it.”
Owner / Publisher