By Chris Haise, (pessimist-in-chief)
In the progressive and bustling suburb that Wauwatosa has become, it is surprising that a city that once had multiple dedicated newspapers would now have none. In spite of the flourishing community, our local paper has been relegated to a mere directional, no longer focused on Wauwatosa.
WauwatosaNOW, the Journal Sentinel led community paper has been combined with other local papers, Brookfield and Elm Grove, into WestNOW.
Wauwatosa is not the only community to face changes in the delivery of local news. Most Community NOW papers have been consolidated into directional papers, like West Allis and Greendale in SouthwestNOW, and Menomonee Falls and Germantown as NorthwestNOW.
The publications remain weekly and are released on Wednesdays, but the scope of each paper has expanded considerably, offering less personalized journalism to communities in Milwaukee, Waukesha, and Ozaukee counties.
The websites for The Journal and local papers had been previously changed to reflect the USA Today model, and the communities have been digitally consolidated into their respective directions as well.
The consolidation of local papers by the Gannett (USA Today) owned Journal Sentinel does not come as much of surprise, but instead is an extension of what has happened to local publications across the country.
The change comes in response to the decline in the effectiveness and solubility of print media over several years. The Pew Research Center stated in a June 2017 report, ”The industry’s financial fortunes and subscriber base have been in decline since the early 2000s, even as website audience traffic has grown for many.”
For local and alt-weekly papers, the effect of declining subscribers is exacerbated by the size of their local markets, as well as the practical restraints of producing content in slow news markets.
While the large-scale decline in print media is a relatively new change, for Wauwatosa, there have previously been issues with sustainable local newspapers. The Wauwatosa News dates back to 1899. In the late 1940’s, two competing local papers, the Wauwatosa News and the Wauwatosa Times, merged to form the Wauwatosa News Times.
The nearly 50 year run of the Wauwatosa News Times is the longest a paper has run continuously in the exclusive service of Wauwatosa, and the paper many readers will be remember.
In the 1990’s, Wauwatosa NOW emerged under the purview of Community News Inc. (CNI). The weekly community newspaper was one of several in the Milwaukee Metropolitan area run by CNI under the NOW heading. During the past 20 years CNI was owned by various firms, the latest being Journal Communications Inc., before they were in turn acquired by Gannett.
It was around the same time in the 1990’s that the Milwaukee areas largest papers, the Journal and the Sentinel, merged to become the paper we know today, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. This indicates that Wauwatosa is not alone in dealing with a shifting and changing local news market, but rather a part of a larger trend in news delivery.
The conversion of the News Times to Wauwatosa NOW, and the consolidation of the Journal Sentinel, came around the time when newspaper circulation in America was at its peak. Since then, and especially in the last 15 years, the landscape has changed dramatically. The decline in circulation is compounded by the effect subscribership has on advertising revenue.
These factors together have taken their toll on the newsroom. According to Pew, the number of people working as reporters or editors has declined by more than 35% since 2004. This clearly impacts the way news is delivered, with fewer people available to report, even as our communities our growing.
Yet again, local news in Wauwatosa is changing. Its new form, West NOW, may not seem like a huge change, but the combination of multiple communities under one news heading can only serve to dilute the dissemination of print news in our community.
While there are other publications hoping to fill the gap (this magazine, for example), the inability of the nation’s largest the largest local-to-national news network to successfully and sustainably run newspapers for individual communities is, in this writer’s opinion, a dire indictment of the fate of print media.
An inability, or perhaps unwillingness to adapt to the News and the Times may be the defining characteristic of Wauwatosa NOW as it is added to the dusty microfilm in the public library, surrounded by the computers that rendered them obsolete.
Wauwatosa’s proximity and connection to Milwaukee has, and will continue to, allow for Tosans to find relevant news through other sources. Social Media and other internet advancements may play a role in the delivery of news as well.
However, the elimination of our local paper means that the need for truly local news has become more acute. Going forward, it will be intriguing to see how local news is affected by the death of Wauwatosa NOW.