By Peter Nuttall
Living In The Ledge Staff Reporter
Along with other cities and towns over the past few years, the city of Grand Ledge has seen its’ way of receiving information start to change. Picking up a paper and reading its’ contents has changed to searching “Grand Ledge news,” in the search bar on a computer and then reading an article on an illuminated computer screen.
“I’m old, I don’t know if a lot of people read newspapers or not anymore,” Grand Ledge Mayor Kalmin Smith joked. “I do know that there are now other forms of media that they’re now using though.”
News about the city of Grand Ledge can be found in the Lansing State Journal, either in the printed daily newspaper or online on their website. The Lansing State Journal is owned Gannett Company, Inc.. Instead of having their own printed newspaper, Grand Ledge has a section in the community section of the Lansing State Journal. MSU journalism professor Stephen Lacy said this is called a zoned edition.
“A zoned edition is when a large newspaper will put in sections about geographic areas,” he said. “They’re independent, they’re not stuck in to the Lansing State Journal but they’re owned by Gannett, and they have people who will run the Lansing news and the Lansing news will run stories from the suburbs.”
Smith said that he’s never even met the reporter who is assigned to cover Grand Ledge for the LSJ. The only journalists that he’s met are the ones from Michigan State University who come down to Grand Ledge (including those for this news site, which is operated by MSU’s journalism school).
“We used to have someone who would cover Grand Ledge,” Smith said. “The work was only part-time, but the only place he would cover was solely Grand Ledge.”
Lacy said Gannett’s decision to move to a zoned edition was a business decision. He said it’s not an uncommon one either that happens across the country. For example the St. Cloud Times in Minnesota, also owned by Gannett, has a local section as well.
“It’s a business strategy and this business strategy is used to cut cost to maintain profit,” he said.
Michigan State history professor Michael Stamm said that the decline in newspapers in small towns and the movement towards online publications can be credited to the decline and reduction of advertisements and classifieds. He said that advertising is very important to small towns and that it’s a factor that is often overlooked. He said the disappearance of classified has hurt both small and larger newspapers.
“When you think about the history of the local newspaper you have to think about it in two ways,” Stamm said. “One of those ways is the way newspapers brought news to the local community, and also looking at newspapers as the thing that brought advertising to local communities.”
Grand Ledge residents said that there are other ways that they keep up to date about what’s going on in their community instead of by newspaper, whether it’s online or even through word of mouth.
“In such a small town I think that if the news is big enough, I’m going to hear it through someone,” Grand Ledge resident James Fletcher said. “Word spreads around pretty quickly if something big is happening.”
Stamm said for some of these smaller communities the economics makes more sense to do it online than to do it in print. He pointed out that by doing it online there’s no need for a printing plant and companies wouldn’t need distribution. They can just pay people to cover a city council meeting or high school sports.
Stamm said however that things start to get dangerous when people start to not pay attention to whether they’re doing it on print or online.
Smith said earlier that he was frustrated in regards to the lack of coverage of a new proposal to amend Grand Ledge’s City Charter. Only 10 percent of registered voters came out and voted on the new proposal. He believes that if people knew about it sooner maybe more people would of come out to vote on it. He said it was only put in the news the Sunday before Election Day.
“A zoned edition is not going to be as much service as a weekly, or a weekly as much as a daily,” Lacy said. “But sometimes a community simply will not support a daily in the long run. There may not be enough news going on to print daily.”