A newspaper died up in Atkins a few weeks back, not with a bang or a whimper, but with the sound of change jingling in a pocket, just too little of it to keep the printing presses rolling. The Atkins Chronicle was 123 years old when editor Billy Reeder and his wife and co-publisher, Paula, made the decision to shutter the paper. They took over in May, combining the Chronicle and her smaller sister The Dover News. They cut the budget by 50 percent, but still dipped $5,000 into the red in a single month. It wasn't mismanagement, mind you, nor recklessness, not throwing big parties with showgirls and ice sculptures like the song-and-dance number in "Citizen Kane." Even cut to the bone, they still couldn't make it.
In a moving farewell on the paper's website — we all feed the beast that killed us in the end — Reeder laid out the facts for those who'd walked past Chronicle paper boxes for years without dropping in their four bits to buy a copy. The world these days, Reeder noted, is about speed, while print newspapers are slow. Slow enough to fact-check and spell the names right. Slow enough to separate the chaff of rumor from the sustaining grain of fact. Slow, Reeder said, is expensive. "This paper that you're paying fifty cents for?" he wrote. "It actually costs between eight and ten dollars to produce each copy. Yep. You read that right. Eight to ten dollars. For every single copy of the paper that we sell."
"It could be argued," Reeder continued, "that we are living in changing times and the closing of newspapers is simply part of the continuing move toward digital and television. That would be a true statement. But it also needs to be considered that far too often those digital and television outlets aren't telling your community's story. They're not sitting in a school board meeting or hanging out in the courthouse or sharing what's happening with your church's Vacation Bible School. Local news outlets, like the Chronicle, do. But at the end of the day bills need to be paid."
Before you suspect it, writing about the death of the Atkins Chronicle is not The Observer's come-on, nor our sneaky way of urging those with means to advertise in our pages, or to guilt you into subscribing. It's not even a nod to The Observer's secret, near-suicidal wish sometimes for a massive solar flare that flash fries every circuit on earth and stops all the beeping and booping, all the kids zombified by screens, all the couples we see in restaurants unspeaking and fixated on cell phones instead of each other. So, no, this isn't about profit margins or bitterness, though we are bitter about it. Just a hat tip toward the mounded grave of a lesser-known lady up in Atkins, who served her community well for nearly a century and a quarter. Not just Pearl Harbor and the Battle of the Bulge and Remember the Maine; not just the Wall Street crash and planes crashing into towers. We're talking about all the stuff that gets lost between the pickets of the big-ticket stories: school board meetings and dog bites man, house fires and weather reports, impassioned editorials about things nobody is going to care about in six bare months. It all takes time, love and energy. It takes scribbling until your hand cramps and hours spent on hold, trying to get a comment. It takes the inside-baseball, late-night, early-morning First Amendment champion stuff that makes The Observer want to slug somebody every time we hear another opportunistic dolt label a carefully reported story he doesn't like as "Fake News!" It's all so much more valuable than money, but you just can't convince folks of that these days, so here we are.
It's predictable where things are going. Just look at the wrecks of fine old ships, large and small, lined up along the coast. But we will say this: As someone who has sat through a three-hour quorum court meeting, as exciting as watching milk curdle, just so folks without the time to be there can have what they need to make informed decisions, you're sure going to miss all us nosey reporters when we're gone.