Local Newspapers Are Dying, for a Good Reason

Local papers, especially in small towns, claim to serve a special niche, but do they?

When I moved from Austin, TX to eastern Tennessee last year, I looked forward to being able to read a local paper that–unlike the Austin American-Statesman–wasn’t a liberal propaganda organ. I figured that the local paper would reflect the values and attitudes of the community it served. Since Blount County is overwhelmingly conservative and Republican, I was hopeful that the local paper, the Maryville Daily Times, would at least be neutral politically, if not center-right. I signed up for a six-month subscription with high hopes.

I quickly became disillusioned. The Daily Times was a Washington Post wannabe, with anti-Trump editorials, biased AP reportage of national stories, and a smattering of local sports coverage and community news: crime blotter items, honor rolls, and an occasional feature on a local business, volunteer, Eagle Scout project, etc. When the Daily Times ran biased stories, which was often, I wrote letters to the editor. Initially, they ran my letters, but at some point the editor, Todd Foster, got fed up with the criticism and shut me off.

When the Daily Times ran an offensive cartoon (above) depicting President Trump and his supporters as ignorant, murderous rednecks, I (and many other readers) complained, prompting the paper to issue a half-hearted apology. Here is my letter:

Dear Editor:

I’ve been reading your shabby excuse for a newspaper since moving to the area six months ago, and thought I had seen the worst of your insipid, amateurish, politically-biased dreck. I was wrong. Today’s editorial cartoon takes the cake. Crudely drawn, it depicts a couple of rednecks in a pickup truck (complete with overalls and a MAGA hat) sporting a confederate flag while stalking an innocent jogger (President Obama). “Let’s get him,” one redneck says to the other, suggesting a racial motivation. 

If this cartoon was inspired by the Georgia case recently in the news, in which Ahmaud Arbery was tragically slain while resisting a citizen’s arrest, it maliciously distorts the facts of that case by depicting the father and son as racist marauders. The cartoon also suggests—falsely, and insultingly—that any opposition to Barack Obama is racially motivated. 

The ultimate irony is that weaponizing the criminal justice system to hunt down political opponents for purely partisan reasons is something that Democrats do to Republicans, not vice versa. In actuality, Lt. General Michael Flynn, recently vindicated by a DOJ report, is the jogger in your stupid cartoon, with James Comey and Robert Mueller driving the truck. The Flynn story is still unfolding, but records indicate that the bogus investigation of Flynn was discussed with Obama in the waning days of his failed administration. https://lawliberty.org/justice-at-last-for-michael-flynn/

So—typical of the Daily Times—your offensive cartoon is wrong on every level. Your editorial positions are consistently poorly-informed, thoughtless, knee-jerk liberal agit-prop. You frequently take positions that offend the overwhelming majority of eastern Tennesseans, who are conservatives. I will not be renewing my subscription to your pathetic newspaper when it expires on June 5, and I hope many of your readers join me. I hope advertisers shun you. The Daily Times is a disgrace, an embarrassment to Maryville, and on top of everything else, a lousy newspaper that deserves to fail.

Sincerely,

Mark Pulliam

The publisher replied that he agreed with me, but the paper declined to run my letter. Instead, the following day the Daily Times issued a tepid editorial message “To Our Readers” that rubbed salt in the wounds. Here it is:

Some of our readers were offended Thursday morning over a nationally syndicated editorial cartoon we published on page 6A.

Our intent was to provoke outrage that an innocent black jogger could be murdered in today’s America and that our nation’s only African American president could be accused of a crime when so far no evidence has been presented.

Some misread our intentions, and we regret that.

Opinion cartoons are not like the funny pages; they’re not designed to be funny, but rather to be provocative. The thought that some of you would regard this cartoon as racist never crossed our minds, and we regret that. We asked the cartoonist in question to tell us his thinking behind the illustration.

Said cartoonist Clay Jones: “Basically, I’m saying that to some people, Obama’s crime is that he’s black. It’s always been his crime to them. Just like Ahmaud Arbery’s crime was being black.”

We at The Daily Times pride ourselves on being a mirror of Blount County and its conservative leanings, and we constantly audit our offerings on the Opinion page for fairness.

While we regret offending some of you with Thursday’s cartoon, we want you to know your feedback is never taken lightly. We always want to know how you feel.

The “apology” was almost as insulting to readers as the underlying cartoon. I decided to let my six-month subscription expire in a few weeks. In the meantime, I continue to read the paper, along with the Wall Street Journal, while I enjoy my morning coffee.

The paper has obviously learned nothing from the firestorm of criticism it received over the offensive cartoon. Today, for example, the Daily Times, which claims to be an local paper whose coverage of community affairs is indispensable to the civic well-being of Blount County (I kid you not), ran two separate items regarding the tragic shooting of Ahmaud Arbery two months ago in Brunswick, Georgia. Not only did this incident occur in another state, nearly 500 miles away, it has been covered at length in the national media (print, digital, cable, and the blog world). I wrote another letter to the editor. Here it is:

Dear Editor:

The Daily Times insists that it is an essential source of local news, and earlier this week even ran an editorial cartoon depicting two parched travelers lost in an “information desert,” forced to drink from a foul internet cesspool. Yet you seem preoccupied with a story out of Brunswick, Georgia, that has been covered incessantly by the national media: the Ahmaud Arbery shooting. Today you featured an editorial on the case from the Brunswick News and an AP story about a previous altercation involving Arbery. This is “local news”? (You had to issue an apology to your readers last week for running a deeply-offensive cartoon based on the Arbery case.)

Many on the Left are working feverishly to portray the tragic events in Brunswick as a racially-motivated hate crime, as they tried to do with similar incidents involving Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. In those cases, however, as well as the media-fanned narrative behind the Duke lacrosse rape charges and the Covington Catholic hysteria, initial impressions proved to be unfounded. We don’t yet know the full story behind the fatal encounter between Arbery and the McMichaels, but we know that the Glynn County District Attorney explained in detail why he declined to file charges against the McMichaels, something that has received scant media attention. https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=18&ved=2ahUKEwj45qWXq8LpAhUHCjQIHUa7DNYQFjARegQICRAB&url=https%3A%2F%2Fint.nyt.com%2Fdata%2Fdocumenthelper%2F6916-george-barnhill-letter-to-glyn%2Fb52fa09cdc974b970b79%2Foptimized%2Ffull.pdf&usg=AOvVaw0nqqYMNQhztCFtNZJEoecR

We also know that Arbery had a prior criminal record and that shortly before the incident he was filmed prowling around a house under construction in the McMichaels’ neighborhood—which had in the past been burglarized. Despite a publicly-available mug shot of Arbery, sympathetic reporters continue to use his high school graduation portrait. Under Georgia law, the McMichaels were authorized to carry weapons and make a citizen’s arrest. They allege that Arbery attacked them when they attempted to detain him. The facts, in short, remain disputed. The story has two sides.

If the Daily Times wants to be a “local newspaper” offering unique content of value to the Blount County community, it should stick to local news and leave the sensationalization of out-of-state controversies to the “internet cesspool” (including the NYT, WaPo, and AP) that routinely—and recklessly—fan the flames of racial division at every opportunity. You want to have it both ways by pretending to cover local news, but in reality mainly running biased AP stories about national events readers could find out about (if they were even interested) on cable news or over the internet. No wonder your circulation is shrinking.

Sincerely,

Mark Pulliam

I am fairly certain the Daily Times will not print this letter. The conglomerate that owns the Daily Times and a portfolio of similar papers serving small towns in conservative areas wonders why fewer and fewer people subscribe. The answer is, your content is not of interest or value to your potential readers. SJW propaganda is available for free on CNN and MSNBC, 24/7. There are dozens of internet sites providing liberal commentary on current events. Some residents don’t care about high school basketball or wrestling. We are interested in unbiased local news, and the Daily Times doesn’t provide it.

Given the economic reality facing local newspapers–declining circulation depresses advertising revenue, which forces even skimpier staffing, leading to worse quality–it is probably inevitable that the Daily Times will fail. When that happens, it will have no one to blame but itself.

Postscript: Contrary to my prediction, the Daily Times ran my second letter to the editor, on May 22, 2020.

P.P.S. A local SJW responded:

YOUR VOICE: Reader says letter was filled with hate and intolerance

Dear Editor:

Reading the letters to the editor in any community newspaper is important to understanding the character of a community and its residents. I often learn from them — sometimes they open my eyes to new ways of thinking, and sometimes they reveal a dismaying level of ignorance and intolerance.

Recent letters from Mark Pulliam fall into the latter category, but his latest one (“Stick to covering Blount County news,” May 22) is utterly beyond the pale. He seems to want to believe that the killing of an unarmed black man is not newsworthy beyond the Georgia county where it happened. His tone implies that Ahmaud Arbery’s killing was his own fault, and then goes on to fault The Daily Times for reporting on it. The guy had a criminal record — why shouldn’t he be gunned down while jogging?

He was “prowling around” a house under construction (as opposed to the several white people seen at the same site, who were … let’s say “browsing”)! And while we “don’t yet know the full story,” as Pulliam points out, we better get that mug shot out there, lest readers get the impression that the white murderers might be the “bad guys” here.

Mr. Pulliam, maybe you went to sleep in 1963 and are just now waking up to the scary realization that laws intended to mark the end of Jim Crow and ensure the rights of all citizens have been passed; like the racists back then, you probably don’t see anything wrong with your way of thinking. You will likely respond as you have before in this venue and maybe the only way you know how — by smugly belittling me for calling out your hate. Please, go ahead.

As a white person, I don’t believe your character is reflective of this community; it has no place here.

Ginny Ayers

Member, Blount County United and NAACP

P.P.PS. To its credit, the Daily Times ran my response:

Dear Editor:

The point of my letter about the Ahmaud Arbery shooting in Brunswick, Georgia (“Stick to covering Blount County news,” May 22) was seemingly lost on your agitated reader, Ginny Ayers. Perhaps she should calm down and re-read my letter. I was not blaming Mr. Arbery, defending the McMichaels, or—least of all—bemoaning the end of the Jim Crow era. My point was, and is, that the Daily Times has repeatedly emphasized its unique role as the purveyor of local news—information about the community that is not available elsewhere. Incidents in another state, 500 miles away, do not qualify as local news. The shooting in Brunswick was amply covered by the national media.

Many crimes occur daily across the country, some of which are inter-racial. Crime blotter stories should be covered even-handedly, but often are not. Some are seized upon by the media and turned into sensational causes celebre; others are barely noticed, such as the unprovoked attack on a 75-year old resident of a Detroit nursing home by a 20-year thug who recorded the beating on his cellphone. Could the difference in coverage between the two incidents be due to the racial identity of the actors? Are crimes less serious (or newsworthy) when committed by blacks against whites? It is neither hateful nor racist to ask such questions, or to suggest that a local paper stick to covering local news.

It is ironic that Ms. Ayers accuses me of intolerance while denouncing my “way of thinking” and suggesting that I “have no place” in the community. Without resorting to the type of name-calling that Ms. Ayers so eagerly uses, I would respectfully suggest that her letter is an exercise in projection. She exhibits precisely the qualities she inaccurately accuses me of.

Sincerely,

Mark Pulliam

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