PARTING WORDS: Press & Journal says goodbye, will cease publication July 1
On Wednesday, July 1, 2020, our family-owned business will publish the last edition of the Press & Journal. More than 166 years after its predecessor, the Swatara Gem, rolled off the press, it has become economically unsustainable for us to continue to publish.
Within weeks of the COVID-19 outbreak, our advertising revenue plummeted. Ironically, our readership soared. Community support came pouring in, for which we are eternally grateful. We wouldn’t have been able to keep publishing for as long as we did without our readers’ help.
But all the donations and grants and loans and subscriptions just weren’t enough to save us from the deathblow the pandemic dealt to a newspaper that was already struggling to fund our print and digital journalism.
Like all good community papers, we cover the local stuff. We write about our people, our schools, our cops, our municipal government. Taxpayers always know someone is watching how their tax dollars are being spent. Elected officials and government administrators know we are watching over them, too.
We write about store owners, teachers, volunteers and community activists. And when those people pass away, our obituaries memorialize their lives. We write about kids scoring field goals and earning college scholarships. When teams won championships, Mom cut out the story and sent it to Grandma.
The public has come to expect more than once-a-week news. It takes a lot of time, money and energy to keep our small business relevant in a 24/7 news cycle. A tremendous effort has been put into keeping our website up-to-date, and our stats show people are turning to pressandjournal.com in record numbers. We set high standards for our journalism, and will always be proud of our designation as the state’s best weekly paper.
Unfortunately, website advertising revenue alone doesn’t come close to covering the cost of producing continuous, quality, local journalism.
Not so long ago, ads from local merchants and service organizations (our bread and butter) began a steady migration to Facebook and Google. Our classified ads were gobbled up by sites like Craigslist and Letgo. If you don’t know already, advertising revenue is how newspapers stay in business. How could a small weekly newspaper like the Press & Journal, with a budget for journalists, bookkeepers, sales staff and delivery people, compete with free advertising offered by the internet giants?
But this is about more than a loss of local information and ad revenue siphoned away from our community. This is also about a news gap for underserved populations. Along with the Press & Journal, we will no longer be able to publish two of our other products: Woman and The Central Voice. Both have a strong following among central Pennsylvania’s female and LGBTQ+ communities.
Our newspaper survived the Civil War, two world wars, and multiple depressions and recessions. But unless a miracle happens, the paper won’t survive Facebook, Google and the coronavirus pandemic. Our readers will have no choice but to get their news from postings on social media or from larger regional news sources.
With our revenue down sharply and no sign of accelerated recovery, we had to make a tough decision very quickly. We held off, hoping something might happen after the Federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program ended on June 10. But the ripple effect from the pandemic has forced our hand.
This is not the kind of ending we could have imagined. It’s certainly not one we would have chosen. This sudden closure is extremely distressing for us, our family and our staff of 15 dedicated professionals, many of whom have been with us for over 20 years. We expect it will be a shock to our readers and advertisers as well.
To quote the owner of a California family restaurant forced to close because of the pandemic, “We thought we saw a light at the end of the tunnel, but it turned out that it was a train.”
Joe and Louise Sukle own Press & Journal Publications.