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Michael Abernathy: A Q&A with the company president

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By Liam Adams

Like many smaller news organizations today, MetroWest Newspapers is owned by a larger company, Landmark Community Newspapers.

Landmark’s properties exist throughout the country, including in Kentucky, the Carolinas, Florida, Virginia, New Mexico, and another in Colorado, the Canyon Courier in Evergreen.

Company President Michael Abernathy visited the Fort Lupton Press Aug. 1. He provided a status report on the company and its properties.

While papers such as the Press and its sister publication, the Brighton Standard Blade, are getting along, there’s little question that MetroWest struggles like many other local papers around the country. Funds are limited and a small staff is tasked with reporting on a large area that’s rife of news.

MetroWest thought to ask Abernathy about Landmark’s continued support and how MetroWest can sustain itself.

MetroWest Newspapers: As opposed to other media companies, what’s Landmark’s core practice?

Michael Abernathy: Well Landmark has been a long-time owner of local newspapers. We believe in local journalism, local content and the communities that the papers serve. Many of our markets are small markets that are weekly newspapers, and we are the primary source of news and information in those markets for the people that live there.

MW: What’s the importance of local newspapers in the first place?

MA: Communities need to ask themselves, “Are you going to be better off with our newspaper in the community than without?” The answer is almost always “yes,” and it’s just to varying degrees because newspapers cover local government, for example, that wouldn’t be covered otherwise. It’s very important to have an organization like a newspaper that has a watchful eye about what’s going on in the community.

MW: There’s no question the newspaper business is having difficulty. In the midst of those challenges, what are Landmark’s properties doing well?

MA: They stick to their knitting and cover local news in a way that’s important to the people that live in that community who really can’t get the information otherwise. There’s lots of things that go on with social media, but it’s not the same as having a source that is fully credible. That’s what we try to provide in the markets we are in. If we can do that, we can be indispensable to the people in that community. Then, advertising revenues will do well because businesses understand the best way to reach people in the community is through the newspaper. The same could be said of circulation numbers. That people will continue to buy and support the newspaper in that community.

MW: What can local papers like MetroWest do better?

MA: Help remind people of the importance of community newspapers and what they contribute to a community. To remind consumers and readers the importance of supporting the newspaper through subscribing.

MW: How do you see the overall sustainability of newspapers?

MA: It’s a challenging time for newspapers, there’s no question about it. Our challenge is to get that message across to people. To turn that tide where some people have grown accustomed to getting information solely from social media and social sites that they don’t need. There’s more credible sources of information, like local newspapers.If that tide is turned, you can sustain newspapers for a very, very long time. It can continue to be very successful. But you need to be supported by circulation funding.

MW: How do you see the future of print newspaper, in particular?

MA: We see it as very important. Even though print circulation has declined, there’s still a lot of loyal readers who prefer to receive the newspaper. Yet, our papers also have websites so that we can provide information to people in the form that they want to read it.

MW: Do you have any advice to newspapers feeling constrained by the limited number of staff members, like MetroWest?

MA: The reality is that you have to have financial support in sustaining a newspaper. It needs to be funded. And that, at times, means that over recentyears, there’s been a restructuring of costs the best that we can. It’s a somewhat of a moving target. But I think the only way that we can do that successfully is to not expect a fewer number of people to do the same thing that was done my more peoplebefore but instead, we figure out how to do things differently and make somedecisions about what’s most important to cover the newspapers.

MW: What is the most important to cover?

MA: We want people in our communities to look at our newspapers as being somewhat indispensable. Part of that is is making sure they have information about what’s going on, whether it’s the time of high-school sports competition to various events that are happening in that community. At the same time, we have to also provide that information about local government and decisions that are being made that affect the lives of people in the community.

MWL What does Landmark’s continued support for MetroWest look like?

MA: Nothing has changed for us. Our newspapers operate pretty independently. We want a local newspaper to be considered a local newspaper. Therefore, decisions have to be made by the people closest to what’s going on in the community. What we try to provide is some support in the form of resources.

Like Mr. Abernathy stated, subscribers support MetroWest through a rate of $40.99 per year. To subscribe, call 303-659-2522.