CARAG — After nearly 10 years and more than 120 issues, the final edition of the Uptown Neighborhood News is set to hit newsstands in June.
Ralph Knox, president of the paper’s board, said it “ran into the inevitable times of just not getting enough ad revenue to keep it going.”
Knox said the paper had “been on fumes since February,” but it’s expected to cease publication without any outstanding debts. Calhoun Area Residents Action Group, or CARAG, is the fiscal agent for the newspaper, so outstanding debts would’ve become the neighborhood organization’s responsibility.
“We didn’t want to be one of those that left things hanging,” Elizabeth Walke, treasurer of the paper’s managing board, said, adding that the board “did not make this decision lightly at all.”
The paper was CARAG’s joint project with the East Calhoun Community Organization and published meeting minutes for both organizations in addition to its usual slate of Uptown business and entertainment news and opinion pieces. Its coverage of the Uptown area extended into the East Isles and Wedge neighborhoods, as well.
The paper reports a monthly circulation of 5,200.
Uptown Neighborhood News was the successor to the East Calhoun News, which was published for over 30 years before shutting down in October 2004. The inaugural edition of the Uptown Neighborhood News, dated August 2005, explained in a cover story how a dedicated group of volunteers from both ECCO and CARAG worked to get a new neighborhood publication up-and-running in just 10 months.
But by 2015, Uptown Neighborhood News ran on just four paid staff members: editor Jessica Van Gilder and art director Bruce Cochran in addition to two delivery people. The paper had an all-volunteer managing board and the ad sales staff worked on commission.
Knox said the paper struggled to find and keep ad sales people who could sell enough advertising to make the commission-only job worth their while.
“It was really difficult,” he said. “For years, we were trying to find a really energetic person who could sell ads. That’s what ultimately really hurt us.”
Like newspapers large and small across the country, Uptown Neighborhood News also struggled with the migration of advertising from print to online.
Knox said once-reliable advertisers, including prominent Uptown restaurateurs, had clearly shifted their focus to online advertising and social media. The paper tried to improve its web presence, but “just didn’t have the energy with a completely volunteer board to pull that off,” he said.
“There were enough advertisers if we had enough manpower to go shake the tree, so to speak,” Walke added. “But as a volunteer organization, shaking that tree takes a lot of effort without a lot of compensation.”
With the exception of a month “here or there,” Knox said it had been several years since the paper turned a profit. In the meantime, it burned through cash reserves, he said.
The Wedge, a free neighborhood newspaper covering the area northeast of Uptown’s core, ceased publication in 2014. Its first edition came out in 1970. The Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association owned the paper, and Cochran served as editor during its final years.
“I’d say, big picture, neighborhood newspapers are a luxury in our current media economy,” Cochran said. “The printed word is more expensive to produce.”
He described both The Wedge and Uptown Neighborhood News as “advocacy papers,” founded by neighborhood residents not just to share news but also to promote the areas they covered and build community. And both struggled to navigate the modern media environment.
“On the board, there’s no requirement that you have experience in newsprint or news. The only requirement to be on the board is that you live in the neighborhood,” Cochran said. “There’s nothing bad about that, it’s just that it limits the potential.”
The Uptown area has undergone a growth spurt in recent years as condo and apartment buildings have sprung up along the Midtown Greenway, but Cochran said both publications had difficulty negotiating with property managers to reach those potential new readers. He said it was deflating to learn many Uptown residents had never heard of the papers, and it also made it more difficult to sell advertising.
On the Uptown Neighborhood News’ tiny staff, Cochran wore multiple hats and worked on both the editorial and advertising sides of the business. He not only reported stories but took also took his own photos, sold and designed ads, laid out the paper and even coordinated delivery.
“That may not go on at the bigger newspapers, and that may be seen as crossing over the line between editorial and advertising, but at a small newspaper you don’t have that luxury of high philosophical values about separating commercial from editorial,” he said.
Cochran said the final issue, which will include a look back at the paper’s history, would be distributed in the Uptown area around June 1.
Knox, who described the paper’s end as “devastating,” held out hope it could return again. After all, it had already come back from the dead once before.
“I know once we go and folks realize it’s the final edition, folks are going to wish we could’ve done more,” he said.
CORRECTION: This story originally stated The Wedge newspaper began publishing in 1969, but a copy of the first edition posted online carries a Nov. 14, 1970 cover date.