The sudden shuttering of Ulster Publication’s four weekly newspapers in Woodstock, New Paltz, Saugerties and Kingston this month no doubt came as a surprise to its thousands of loyal readers and advertisers. It shouldn’t have.
Print has been losing ground at a steady clip since the internet evolved into the main form of communication. Ulster Publishing has seen its circulation drop from around 12,000 five years ago to under ten, according to its official filings with the Postal Service. Even Warren Buffett, the Oracle of Omaha, gave up on print. A few years ago, Buffett bought controlling interest in a string of dailies that included his hometown newspaper. Hopes rose. If The Oracle had faith in newspapers, maybe? The stock rose, briefly. Alas, t’was but a dead cat bounce. Last year he sold his stock, telling reporters, ”It was losing money faster than I thought it would.”
Strategically sited in four of Ulster’s six population sectors, but with each newspaper having an identity and management entirely its own, Ulster Publishing should have been a booming enterprise. Twenty years ago, it was. At the end of last year, at the peak of a long-running bull market, industry experts were predicting double-digit declines in print advertising. Then came the pandemic. Advertising is futile if people don’t come out of their homes.
By way of context, newspapers traditionally derive about two-thirds of their revenue from advertising. Circulation revenue (subscriptions and newsstand sales) covers printing and delivery.
Ulster publisher/owner Geddy Sveikauskus, 80, has laid off most of his talented staff with the apparent hope that some may be brought back in some other venue. In a letter to staff, he spoke to a “detour” to the web or another print format. There, he might have been referring to the company’s popular Almanac which was distributed free. How he intends to provide meaningful, relevant and timely local news and features with minimal staff remains to be seen. It is not a promising picture.
After ten years at Ulster Publishing, most of its staff were friends and respected colleagues. It was probably my last newsroom and I miss it. I am saddened for them, but mostly for the readers who counted on those newspapers to cover their communities at a level and depth daily and regional newspapers rarely reach. We will all be the lesser.
Media notes – Most politicians “read the papers,” as we used to say before the Internet, but few peruse print like Assemblyman Kevin Cahill. Since he follows this stuff, Cahill was probably less surprised by Ulster Publishing’s departure (for now?) than some others.
While some may bemoan the loss of another newspaper chain, Cahill at least puts his money where his mouth is. Forwarding Geddy a little seed money for his new enterprise, Cahill bought a $1,000 ad on the last vestige of Ulster Publishing, the company’s less than successful (to date) HV1 website. Good for him.
Hard to tell from all the pandemic coverage, but some aspects of life go on. Cahill advises your favorite blogger that the state legislature is prepared to approve sales tax extensions for Ulster and Dutchess counties (among others) this month to extend for three years rather than the usual two years. Ulster’s one percent surtax is worth upwards of $32 million, based on county projections. Unfortunately, no one expects government to collect anything near what it did in 2019 in the face of a rising recession. Timely action by the legislature – these things usually get passed in the rush to adjournment in June – recognizes that local government will be hard-pressed to provide basic services in the near term.