Media Moves

Upstart Provincetown Independent sparks hope for local journalism

September 19, 2019

Posted by Yvonne Zacharias

In Reporter’s Notebook, a feature of The Atlantic, Deborah and James Fallows say there is hope for local journalism. 

Editor Ed Miller and publisher Teresa Parker with first edition of Provincetown Independent as it comes off the presses Sept. 6 (Courtesy of Sophie Ruehr)

As an example, they take a close look at an upstart weekly print newspaper in Provincetown, Massachusetts, on the tip of Cape Cod that shows a great deal of promise. The first edition of the Provincetown Independent came off the presses this month.

Ed Miller and his wife Teresa Parker, who founded the Independent, say it is aimed at readers, advertisers and citizens in the towns of outer Cape Cod.

Local community-based newspapers might not make the vast pools of profit demanded by the big media companies but they can still turn a decent profit while serving a much-needed role, The Atlantic’s report suggests. 

The Fallows have been chronicling examples of smaller papers that have bucked the economic trend—in Mississippi, in coastal Maine, in rural communities across the country.

In the latest article which focuses on the Provincetown Independent, Miller is quoted as saying of Provincetown and the hopes for his paper: “This is an interesting community. There are a lot of engaged people here, there is money here, this is a place that ought to be able to support a perfectly successful, profitable newspaper.” 

The approach Miller and Parker decided on—which you can read about on the Independent’s own site, or by Allison Hagan in The Boston Globe and Sarah Mizes-Tan for the local public-radio station WCAI—was a mix of normal for-profit business structure and nonprofit adjunct.

The business plan is based on a four-year hoped-for course to profitability, at which point the paper would have total paid circulation of 6,000 per week and 19 full-time staffers. So far, Miller and Parker have raised a little more than half of the business capital they are looking for. The nonprofit operation has raised three times as much as its original target. This money will be used for special projects—training young journalists, supporting investigative efforts, long-term projects on themes that are important to the community, like how young families will manage to live here.

“People are saying we need to come up with a new business model” for small newspapers, said Miller in The Atlantic article. “Actually, the old business model for a local newspaper that really does its job can actually work pretty well.” He said that he canvassed owners of similar-scale papers around the country, and found that a normal profit rate was about eight per cent of revenue. For a private-equity fund, that’s nothing. “But if you’re running a normal local business, eight per cent is pretty good.”

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