Help Wanted: West Virginia is looking for the next generation of local newspaper owners

The West Virginia Press Association and West Virginia University are launching a new effort to replenish the shrinking pool of independent community news publishers.

Don Smith, a veteran of both the editorial and publishing sides of the business and the executive director of the West Virginia Press Association (WVPA), talks about the phone calls he received from long-time community newspaper owners in the state looking to sell—or perhaps, just fold the paper if no viable buyer emerged. “They were at the end of their life … but their children had decided they didn’t want to be in the newspaper business,” he says. “I had owners in their sixties, seventies, eighties, and nineties who really wanted to get off the treadmill.”

According to Smith, this substantially rural state is served by 19 dailies and 54 weeklies, with at least half of those weeklies falling into the category of small and independent. In the past five years, 19 newspapers in West Virginia were sold. Sixteen were bought by newspaper chains and several went out of business.

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