You hear the craziest things in bars. I had been in one yesterday to grab a burger for lunch, and someone who knew my old ties to the paper asked me about the Herald. Specifically, did I know it was going out of business July 31?
Can't be true, I replied. Can it? Why no, of course not.
The Herald, "Manatee County's Newspaper Since 1922'', is struggling like other papers around the country. There have been layoffs (starting with me more than a year ago), a price increase, reduction in volume and size, and other cost cutting measures. Still, there seems to be no catching up with the alarming loss of advertising revenue.
It used to be a real struggle to put out a quality newspaper every day. Now? It must be brutal. But they keep trying, God bless 'em. What do today's stories about the new South Manatee Fire Rescue chief, the holiday "Tow to Go'' campaign (drinkers, read this!) and the local "Vin's People'' column have in common? They were written by the same guy, Vin Mannix. One of the best writers in these parts, Roger Mooney, appears in two sections. And copy editor Tim Wolfrum has a byline on a local protest against government-run health care. You can't say these folks aren't slugging away. I miss being in the trenches with them.
It's true that newspapers are falling by the wayside. This week Gannett, the world's largest newspaper chain, announced it would soon be cutting another 1,400 jobs. Already this year it shuttered the Tucson Citizen.
But people are still reading the paper. At least in Manatee they are. And you know what? It's still the best deal in town. And it's the only reliable source of information about my town. Today I learned the latest about county foreclosures, local flooding, and what's on tap for the Fourth of July weekend. I also learned that the major league Rays and Pirates are teaming up to renovate the 13th Avenue Community Center ballfields, and that Rays skipper Joe Maddon had better start studying up on his American League All-Star candidates.
The Herald offers puzzle solvers SEVEN daily puzzles, including Kakuro -- which you won't find in the Sarasota-based paper. Nor will you find Holy Mole, the best cartoon strip in the universe, in the competing sheet, even though it's drawn by a Sarasota artist. Once you make a decision to buy a local newspaper, the choice is simple here.
Will that still be true after July 31? Of course it will. I'm just gonna have to start staying out of bars where you hear these silly rumors.