Locally run independent newspapers aren’t dead — at least not on the Outer Cape.
At a time when papers small and large are radically downsizing or shutting down altogether, a Wellfleet couple is launching a weekly called The Provincetown Independent to fillwhat they say is a void in local news coverage in the area. The paper will serve residents of Provincetown, Truro, Eastham, and Wellfleet.
The Provincetown Independent published an online preview edition Friday that features a story about the challenges of delivering a baby on the Cape and barriers to accessing prenatal care.
Editor Edward Miller and publisher Teresa Parker are running the business out of their house in Wellfleet for now, but they hope to have an office once they start printing the paper and publishing it regularly online, which should be around October.
“I believe in the importance of small, local papers in creating a sense of community and really making democracy work at a local level,” Miller said.
Parker also runs a travel business called Spanish Journeys. In July, Miller quit his job as an associate editor at The Provincetown Banner, a local Outer Cape paper that was bought by GateHouse Media in 2008. It’s the Independent’s main competition, along with another GateHouse paper, The Cape Codder.
GateHouse has been widely criticized for buying papers and then drastically reducing staffing and resources to save money, while outsourcing production and other operations. (On Monday, New Media Investment Group, parent of GateHouse, said it would merge with Gannett, which publishes USA Today and more than 100 other publications across the United States, in a $1.4 billion deal.)
When the Banner laid off its last remaining staff reporter in May and began relying entirely on freelance writers, Miller and Parker feared they could lose their local paper, which once employed more than 20 people and now has just four employees.
“You can’t pay someone $75 to write an article about housing on the Outer Cape,” Miller said. “Because it takes a lot of time and you have to build relationships.”
Jay Coburn said that during the six years he served on the Board of Selectman in Truro, eight different freelancers were hired to cover town government instead of a full-time reporter who might better understand the nuances of local issues such as the challenges of a seasonal economy.
“The people who live in our community deserve to have objective journalism and someone covering the complicated issues of these towns,” said Coburn, chief executive of the Community Development Partnership, a local business group.
Despite the bad news for local journalism nationwide, Miller and Parker believe their weeklymodel can work. Compared with metro newspapers, local papers are more resilient because they offer exclusive content and can benefit from hyper-local advertising, according to a study conducted by the Columbia Journalism Review in 2017.
Miller and Parker say they’ve spoken to owners of weekly local papers in similar markets across the country about strategies to build a sustainable publication that isn’t overly reliant on ad revenue. The paper plans to offer a yearly all-inclusive print and digital subscription for $60.
The paper has raisedan undisclosed amount of money from private investors to get off the ground and hopes to go public next spring throughadirect public offering, which is similar to an initial public offering but with fewer costs.
The five-year business plan predicts the paper will break even in year four, Miller said.
“Nobody’s getting rich,” Parker said. “We’re trying to be a modest, viable, sustainable business that invests in itself before it thinks about taking profits out.”
The couple also plans to start a nonprofit arm to support in-depth special reports on critical local concerns, such as LGBTQ issues and climate change.
Until the paper receives approval from the federal government to establish the nonprofit, it’s working with the nonprofit Center for the Study of Public Policy.