By: Geoff McGhee | High Country News
Walk in to a town council meeting in Pinedale, Wyoming, and you’re likely to find as many as three local reporters scribbling notes and asking questions. That news in a town of 2,030 residents is covered by two newspapers and a website is partly explained by the abundance of mineral wealth in surrounding Sublette County, which produced $3.6 billion in natural gas last year. Add to that the urgent concern about breaching a local dam threatened by record snowmelt coming from the Wind River Range, and you’ve got a recipe for a small-town media frenzy.
This scene is also illustrative of how rural journalism is surviving, even thriving, in the rural West and across the United States, in an era of precipitous decline for major metropolitan newspapers.
In the United States, some 7,500 community newspapers–papers with under 30,000 in circulation–still hit the streets, front porches, and mailboxes at least once a week. A 2010 survey conducted by the University of Missouri, Columbia for the National Newspaper Association produced some enviable statistics: More than three-quarters of respondents said they read most or all of a local newspaper every week. And in news to warm the heart of any publisher, a full 94 percent said that they paid for their papers.