Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Burg Blog: End of an Era

For anyone who cares about local news, today is a sad day indeed.

The final edition of the Press & Journal, the Middletown area’s venerable weekly newspaper, rolled off the printing press, ending a publishing tradition that dates back more than 160 years.

The P&J traces its roots to before the Civil War, its  stories telling of countless council meetings, bake sales, football games, pet contests and political dust-ups.

It survived the Civil War, the Great Depression, a couple of world wars and a partial nuclear meltdown, among other events and afflictions. But it couldn’t overcome the twin plagues of today—digital advertising and the coronavirus pandemic.

As the publishers, Joe and Louise Sukle, wrote so tellingly in their parting column, the P&J’s finances were devastated after advertisers increasingly sent their money to Facebook, Google, et al, instead of spending it locally with them. The pandemic further broke the bank, drying up the business that remained.

It’s a familiar story. Nearly 1,800 local newspapers, mostly small weeklies, closed between 2004 and 2018, according to a 2018 study, “The Expanding News Desert.” As of today, we can add the Press & Journal to the long list of dearly departed.

The digital economy can be unforgiving, even destructive. It has taken out many businesses that once were pillars of the community—record stores, bookshops, retailers, etc. Money that stayed within a community, circulating in a virtuous cycle among local businesses and people, now is shunted thousands of miles away, swept into the bank accounts of Silicon Valley or even foreign companies.

When the local newspaper goes belly up, it’s a double hit. Yes, the community loses a business, along with those jobs. But the losses stretch far beyond that to knowledge, information and accountability, along with a sense of shared identity and communal responsibility, all fostered by the local paper.

The Press & Journal was an old-time weekly, dedicated to the ins and outs of small-town life in and around Middletown. The few remaining players in the local news business may pick up some of that coverage, but much will be lost forever. If only we could quantify the stories that won’t be told, the knowledge that won’t be gained and shared.

At TheBurg, we grieve the loss, just as we wish Joe and Louise, as well as their staff, all the best as they start their own new chapters. Thank you for dedicating so much of your lives to the news industry—impoverished, beset, attacked—yet still so vital.

Lawrance Binda is co-publisher/editor-in-chief of TheBurg.

TheBurg suffers from many of the same industrywide issues that afflict papers like the Press & Journal. If you would like to contribute to our community journalism, please join our new membership program, Friends of TheBurg.

Pictured above: A screen shot of the Press & Journal’s final edition.

Continue Reading