A newspaper in the Mississippi Delta is closing at the end of April because of economic difficulties exacerbated by the loss of advertising income to social media sites, its owner says.
The Bolivar Commercial has been in business for 104 years in Cleveland, Mississippi. It currently publishes a print edition on Wednesdays and Fridays.
Lee Walls is president and CEO of Walls Newspapers and owner of The Bolivar Commercial. He said in an article published online Wednesday that he has spent “years and a great deal of money” to keep the paper open.
The newspaper industry has sustained steep declines in ad revenue because of the new coronavirus, causing furloughs, layoffs, print reductions and closures across the U.S.
Cleveland is home to Delta State University. The city and Bolivar County both have a poverty rate higher than 25%, and the area has lost population for decades.
Walls said the newspaper was hit hard by the sharp decline of ad revenue during the recession of 2008-09, including the loss of a local car dealership. He also said Facebook and other social media sites have hurt community newspapers.
“With social media, a user can choose to have a ‘news’ feed of legitimate stories, incorrect stories, hateful rhetoric, harmful gossip and defamatory commentary. As if that’s not enough, they can have all of that in the form of video or text. You get all of that by simply giving up your personal data and privacy, no money required,” Walls said.
“We don’t have the option to compete against that business model because we are held to a higher standard,” he said. “Based on very objective statistics, it is clear that people are choosing social media and to give up their privacy, over community journalism.”
The Bolivar Commercial’s publisher, Diane Makamson, said the newspaper has nine full-time employees and one part-time employee. They have a combined 222 years of working for the paper.
Walls, whose father bought the newspaper in the early 1980s, said: “I have nothing but respect and pride for all of my employees and their hard work, which is why I have personally covered the losses for many years now to keep the paper running.”
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