Chasing the Community Newspaper Rainbow: The Whiteville News Reporter and the Digital Age

ABSTRACT

CSJ-14-0055.0  This case looks at a community newspaper and how it might transform its business model to thrive in the digital age. It chronicles the award-winning Whiteville (NC) News Reporter as it confronts many of the economic, editorial and technological challenges facing community newspapers today. The newspaper has long printed its own paper, enjoyed high reader loyalty and been an important community institution. But emerging from the recession of 2008, the News Reporter leadership team of Leslie and Stuart High realizes business is not as usual, and that a new strategic plan needs to take account of new realities regarding revenue and product. 

Use this case to ask students whether it matters that newspapers like the News Reporter survive. What role does media play in a democracy? If the paper is to survive, how might it adapt and change to a new media business environment? Researchers with whom the paper has partnered suggest a three-pronged strategy: shed legacy costs, build multiple reader communities on several platforms, and pursue new ad revenue. Does this make sense for the News Reporter? As its owners, the High siblings, look at their options, are they better off doing one thing at a time or trying to reform simultaneously across several areas? 

This case can be used as a stand-alone, or in combination with a book, Saving Community Journalism: The Path to Profitability. From 2009-2014, the News Reporter was one of a group of newspapers studied by researchers at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. The book resulted from the study and contains numerous materials valuable for educators. The case was contributed by Prof. Penny Muse Abernathy, author of the book.  

Use this case in a course/class about the business of media, community journalism, strategic management, or entrepreneurial journalism.

Credits:

This case was written and contributed by Professor Penny Muse Abernathy of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. (0814)

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