The 105-year-old Waycross Journal-Herald ceased publication last Monday.
Roger Williams, whose family has owned the newspaper since his grandfather, Jack Williams Sr., bought it in 1916, said that there was no choice other than to exhaust the personal funds of stockholders to continue publication. Williams said he regrets it for everyone, but at 71 he couldn’t risk his personal finances in hopes things would somehow turn around.
The family has tried to sell the paper and had two offers, but both fell through. Williams adds, “We told them what the situation was. I hate it, but we didn’t have any recourse.”
Additionally, he said the financial status of newspapers has changed rapidly and that it is especially hard for an independent publication to survive downturns in the economy. During the recession, revenues flagged and never fully recovered.
The closure of the newspaper leaves Waycross and Ware County without a legal organ to publish matters as required by law.
George Barnhill, district attorney of the Waycross Judicial Circuit, said that Georgia law requires governments to buy legal ads to advise the public of everything from foreclosures to public hearings to meetings.
Waycross City Attorney Rick Currie said the city has to give notice of public hearings and meetings. “At least every two weeks, we have ads in the paper,’’ he said.
The Journal-Herald has been the primary daily paper for Brantley and other neighboring counties, especially in face of pullbacks by the Florida Times-Union and Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
According to Walter Hussman, publisher of the Arkansas Democrat in an April interview with the publication Arkansas Money and Politics, in 2005 printed newspapers in the U.S. took in about $47.4 billion. But by 2017, that had fallen to about $12 billion. In Waycross, no one will be asking those questions for the first time since the late 1800s when the weekly Herald began publication. For his part, Roger Williams said it has been a stressful time.
“You feel like you’re losing a part of yourself,’’ he said of the closure. “I’m a Christian. I pray about it. The Lord will help you get through it.”
The Journal-Herald speaks to a larger trend of dying community newspapers, despite their importance and need in towns across the country.