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Another small-town Ohio newspaper closes, making information scarce

A picture of The Louisville Herald building.
Kelly Krabill
Ideastream Public Media
The Louisville Herald building sits empty since its closure.

Jean Carden keeps a newspaper clipping of her granddaughter’s gymnastics meet tucked between the pages of her Bible. 

“I just loved it when I opened up the paper, and I saw a picture of Dani in her gymnastic pose,” Carden said. 

Carden subscribed to The Louisville Herald, the paper that covered her granddaughter's gymnastics achievements, from the 1990s until it stopped covering news in this small Ohio town and production ceased in July 2023.

Since the closure, she relies on her daughter-in-law to tell her what's happening in the community. But she said she still doesn’t know enough about what’s going on around town. The 88-year-old isn’t on social media, so she can’t check out Facebook to keep up with current events. 

The newspaper was a primary source of local news for Carden when she moved to Louisville decades ago.

“It was very, very helpful,” she said. “Being new in town, and I only knew my neighbors. If there was anything else going on I really didn't know about it.”

Frank and Jackie Clapper ran The Louisville Herald, which was bought by Frank’s grandfather in 1927. The paper provided hyperlocal coverage to the city of Louisville, a town bordering Canton in Stark County. Frank began working at the paper as a photographer with his dad, the editor, while in high school. With the closure, the Clappers retired and moved to Columbus to live closer to family.

The Louisville Herald notice of closure
Kelly Krabill
Ideastream Public Media
A notice of closure remains on the door of The Louisville Herald.

“I had reached the age, and the physical newspaper was declining,” Frank Clapper said.

About 2,000 people subscribed to the weekly paper until it ceased operation, he said. 

Many weekly newspapers cover smaller towns with fewer subscribers than daily newspapers in larger cities. Residents in small towns rely on these brick-and-mortar media outlets for critical information: government notices, road closures, sporting highlights, birth announcements, wedding celebrations and local obituaries.

“Being located in between two dailies all the years never made it real easy for us,” Frank said, referring to the Canton Repository and the Alliance Review. “We always had food on the table and such, but we never had it easy. We were there. The more the world changed the more we tried to focus on the local community.”

And focus he did. Until retirement, Frank, who served as the paper's editor and covered the news, worked 70 hours a week documenting life in Louisville. 

Small towns hit the hardest

While the newspaper industry is shrinking, weekly papers closed the fastest, declining 24% between 2022 and 2023, according to a report by the Northwestern Local News Initiative. Daily papers had a 3% decline during that same time frame.

Waynesburg, also in Stark County, lost its weekly paper in 2022 due to declining advertising revenue, according to its Facebook page. 

In Summit County, The Barberton Herald, a weekly newspaper that covered Barberton and Norton, closed at the end of 2022 due to rising costs and shrinking advertisement sales, according to the Akron Beacon Journal. 

But unlike many other communities that lost their newspapers, Barberton has a new player seeking to fill information needs. Kurt and Heather Immler, small business owners who bought The Dalton Gazette & Kidron News in 2016, opened The Barberton Gazette & Norton News in August 2023 as a weekly newspaper with an online presence. 

“The readers are still trying to figure us out after our first seven or eight months, but to think that we had hundreds of subscribers prior to our first print just shows the thirst of the community,” Kurt Immler said.

Kurt and Heather Immler stand in their office.
Kelly Krabill
Ideastream Public Media
Kurt and Heather Immler stand in their office at The Dalton Gazette & Kidron News, which they bought in 2016. Last year, they founded The Barberton Gazette & Norton News.

The new venture has about 2,000 subscribers. Kurt Immler said he expects it to get to around 5,000. 

A town without a newspaper

Low voter turnout, high political polarization and the spread of misinformation are a few takeaways from Northwestern Local News Initiative’s report examining trends in towns that don’t have a newspaper.  

Barberton dealt with the spread of misinformation.

“It kind of opened up the floodgates and we did a lot of correcting, public correcting, of social media posts,” Barberton Mayor William Judge said.

Andrea Lorenz, assistant professor of journalism at Kent State University, said when a newspaper closes, people feel “less connected.” Her research focuses on interactions between media and democracy, especially local news.

“A lot of folks who are getting their weekly newspaper delivered are people who are not out and about in the town, perhaps. They're a little more isolated,” she said. “Some of them might not have good internet, and so that really was such a huge source of all of their information they're not able to find.”

In Louisville, more residents have called the city looking for information, said Tiffany Justice, the city clerk. 

“A lot of the calls, when they call us, is, ‘Where can we find this information? We don't have a computer to look on your website. We’re not on social media. Where do we go?’” Justice said.

Pat Fallot, the mayor of Louisville, started a senior activities program that she announced in the Louisville Herald when it was still in circulation. Now she calls people to remind them of upcoming events. 

“It would have been nice if there could have been another small community newspaper came in and picked up where the Herald left go,” Fallot said.

Still, a newspaper doesn’t “serve everybody’s needs,” Lorenz said. They serve subscribers.

“We need to evaluate each community for what are the actual information needs in the community, and what different mediums are needed to fill those information needs,” Lorenz said. 

Traffic crosses an intersection in Louisville.
Kelly Krabill
Ideastream Public Media
More than 9,000 people live in Louisville, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Filling in the gaps

Some community members are doing just that.

A new monthly magazine, Louisville Neighbors, focuses on connecting local businesses to families in Louisville and bordering townships. Readership is 14,000, growing since the first edition came out in January, said Cindy Fisher, the publisher.

“It’s not quite the Herald, but … we still needed to deliver something in print for students and families and local residents, so they can see and feel and touch,” Fisher said. “There's something about that print that is unique that doesn't transcend the digital presence of online media.”

Rob Johnson, the owner of Spotlight Media Network, provides the athlete of the month who is featured in the magazine. He had hopes of keeping the Louisville Herald afloat, but the cost was too high, he said. He recently started Spotlight News 1, an online news source.

“The city of Louisville [and] Nimishillen Township, I'm getting them to send me the information … so that we can put it out to the public like the paper used to,” Johnson said.

As the number of weekly newspapers shrink, the effort to fill the information gap continues in small towns across Ohio.

Corrected: April 24, 2024 at 12:19 PM EDT
This story has been edited to reflect that Rob Johnson is the owner of Spotlight Media Network, not Straggat Media Network as was originally reported.
Expertise: Plain culture including Amish and conservative Mennonites, intellectual disabilities, audio and print journalism, video storytelling, photography