Community Newspapers in Fierce Competition
Community Newspapers Alive and Well
Investigative Report by Rob Patterson
© The Austin Bulldog 2010
At first glance, Austin seems the typical modern American two-newspaper town: a mid-sized city with a daily newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman, and an alternative newsweekly, The Austin Chronicle. Focus more closely and a different newspaper landscape emerges.
The greater Austin area also boasts 15 community papers published from one to three times a week, and a five-year-old rapidly expanding chain of monthly papers, Community Impact Newspaper, that target seven local areas. Also in the mix are two weeklies for the African-American community, three Spanish-language weeklies, a South Asian community monthly, and a center city weekly, The Austin Times, that seems to largely fly under the radar.
In dire times of flagging circulation and sagging advertising dollars for print dailies, community newspapers remain one bright spot for print journalism. With 22 general audience community non-daily newspapers, and one small daily in Taylor, the Greater Austin area appears, by the numbers at least, to be rather well served by such publications.
Nine of those papers are owned by the same Cox Media Group as the American-Statesman, a subsidiary of the Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises Inc. Operating these 10 Austin-area newspapers under the same corporate roof raises obvious questions the editorial independence and local commitment of the nine community papers. These concerns first surfaced in 2000 when Cox purchased six of them—the Bastrop Advertiser, Lake Travis View, North Lake Travis Log, Pflugerville Pflag, Smithville Times, and Westlake Picayune—from Westward Communications. Concerns were elevated when Cox’s Austin Community Newspapers Group later bought the Round Rock Leader and started the Leander Ledger and Cedar Park Citizen.
Any fears that the Cox community papers might eschew or significantly compromise their local news mission under the same corporate umbrella as the Statesman have proven largely unfounded, though some observers do say the news coverage provided may not be all it could be.
The acquisitions and launching of papers by Cox has not created a juggernaut to destroy the area’s community media. Independently owned papers include the Oak Hill Gazette and West Austin News, both weeklies, and the twice-weekly Williamson County Sun. Also on the list of community papers are the twice-weekly Hill Country News, which covers Cedar Park and Leander, its Four Points News edition for the Lake Travis area, the Hutto News, and Taylor Daily Press. All four of these are part of the Taylor-based Granite Publications chain of 22 Texas community papers.