PUNGO — This past month, there was some discussion by Virginia Beach officials about The Virginian-Pilot changing its arrangement with the city in regards to publishing City Council agendas prior to meetings.
For years, The Pilot has done this as a service to its readers, many of whom are in our city. It is the sort of thing we expect from a local newspaper with a long tradition of public service journalism, particularly when it still boasts, despite the many challenges to the print industry, the largest — and best — newsroom covering Virginia Beach.
As of Sunday, Sept. 1, part of that service ended. According to the city, The Pilot will no longer run agendas for free in The Virginia Beach Beacon, a tabloid published as a supplement within the paper.
“We have a situation with The Beacon,” was how Mayor Bobby Dyer put it.
There was some discussion about the new costs this could mean during a City Council work session on Tuesday, Aug. 20.
“They are now going to charge for that,” City Clerk Amanda Barnes said, basing an estimate on a bill Chesapeake got. A half-page ad could cost thousands of dollars to run a couple times per month, she said.
The change by The Pilot, which could mean the city will phase out running the agenda in The Beacon, is simply baffling.
I understand the pressures The Pilot faces in the digital age, but it seems shortsighted to make our local daily newspaper less useful to readers, particularly people who pay attention to public life, because running the agenda does not directly generate revenue for a parent company.
An email to Barnes only said this is due to unspecified changes with community publications published by The Pilot. I tried to reach out, but my calls were not returned.
Running the City Council agendas is not required by law for the city in what is considered a newspaper “of record” such as The Pilot. However, members of the City Council made it clear that they want to find ways to get the agenda out to people.
The Independent News came up in the discussion at City Hall.
City Councilmember Barbara Henley, whose Princess Anne District makes up most of our coverage area, brought it up. The Independent News is not a “paper of record,” as the law defines it. I have run some advertising at no cost to the city.
Barnes and I plan to discuss how The Independent News can be a part — however small — of the city effort to help get agendas out before meetings. I need to be clear that our production schedule does not always line up with when the agenda is available, and our circulation and our distribution is relatively small by design. And, of course, this is not The Pilot.
There is one obvious solution.
As a subscriber who believes in our need to support The Pilot — and as someone who prints this newspaper at The Pilot plant in our city — I pray the local daily will reverse this clearly errant course.
The Independent News carries political advertising. This paid advertising helps us fund journalism, as any advertising does, but it also usually covers the cost of our election guide, which means I can add more pages and print more copies.
This past year, the election guide was in heavy demand in print. Thousands of readers read the complete guide online via princessanneindy.com – especially in what appeared to be some kind of 48-hour digital cram session that ended on Election Day.
The guide includes answers to questions we send to candidates. Candidates are not required to respond. Some don’t. Most do, which is nice because, frankly, print journalists have low self esteem these days. There is no cost to candidates to respond to questions. There is no preference given to those who advertise compared to those who do not.
Due to the number of races this year in our coverage area, including the special elections, I’m considering breaking the guide up across two editions in October. My preference is to run it all at once, but I have not quite figured that out yet. I hope to have more information next month.
Please let me know if there are burning questions for any of the races this year. Reach me via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for reading.
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