PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Just a week after breaking a major statewide story, Southern Rhode Island’s weekly Independent newspapers have announced they will merge operations in one paper and end coverage of East Greenwich next month.
The North East Independent and the South County Independent will began publishing Oct. 1 as a single newspaper, The Independent, managing editor Liz Boardman wrote in this week’s edition.
“In moving to one paper, we are better able to serve our dedicated readers and advertisers by offering a bigger, more robust paper serving our three active, engaged and civic-minded communities of Narragansett, North Kingstown and South Kingstown,” she wrote.
The papers are owned by the Edward A. Sherman Publishing Co., which also publishes the daily Newport Daily News. Their combined circulation is 11,400.
“Both papers’ advertising and circulation are up, but they’re up in those three places,” Boardman, who has led the papers since 2012, told WPRI.com. “We want to focus on our strengths.” The North East Independent has never been able to get the level of penetration it sought in East Greenwich, she said.
“It made sense as we looked at, the South County Independent is 19 years old this year – what’s the next 10 to 20 years?” she said. “It makes sense to say, these three towns all are just much more similar, and let’s focus there and really give them a bigger, better paper that just can do more than we could as two separates.”
The combined paper’s front section will have at least 12 pages a week, up from the typical eight to 10 currently, along with the current sports, arts and classified sections, she said.
The Independent has nine editorial staff members, two sales representatives, an advertising manager and a marketing director, Boardman said. Two jobs are being cut with the changes – an associate editor’s position and a sales representative – and former staff writer Patrick O’Brien’s position is not being filled after his departure, she said.
The changes at the Independent papers come as print newspapers nationwide are facing an existential challenge from the rise of digital media. The Providence Journal, Rhode Island’s long-dominant statewide daily, has seen its average weekday print circulation fall from 203,000 in 1990 to about 66,000 this year, according to the Alliance for Audited Media.
Yet many experts have argued that if any category of print newspapers is in strong shape to survive, it’s community newspapers. A study conducted in 2013 for the National Newspaper Association found two-thirds of residents in small U.S. communities said they still read their local paper.
“That has been our experience – not that we haven’t had our struggles, but our advertising revenue is the best it’s been in 10 years,” Boardman said. She pointed to the success of other local community papers – notably The Valley Breeze in the northern part of the state, John Howell’s Warwick Beacon group, and the East Bay Newspapers chain – as further reasons she is hopeful about the future.
“It seems like we’re all doing OK,” she said.
“When it comes right down to it, if the empty lot next to you is going to become a CVS or some big building you weren’t expecting, The Journal isn’t going to cover that,” she said. “This is really where you’re going to find out about that stuff that you need on a day to day basis wherever you live.”
The South County Independent was founded in 1997 by Frederick J. Wilson III with an initial staff largely plucked from the Narragansett Times, Boardman said. A seven-times-a-year magazine now known as South County Life followed in 1998, and the North East Independent was created in 1999.
The Independent papers compete locally with the biweekly Narragansett Times and The Standard-Times of North Kingstown, both of which were purchased in 2007 by Rhode Island Suburban Newspapers, whose other publications include the Pawtucket Times, the Woonsocket Call and the Kent County Daily Times.
The South County Independent made headlines statewide just last week when it published a report revealing that newly retired state Rep. Donald Lally had taken a job with the Raimondo administration despite the state’s strict rules against so-called revolving-door hirings. The report has already triggered an Ethics Commission complaint by the Rhode Island Republican Party.
Boardman said her newsroom has been elated to watch its scoop ricochet across the rest of Rhode Island. “We were so excited,” she said.
“There’s still Journal reporters who are doing really good work – for all the changes, they’re really still in there in the trenches,” she said. “I really like that competition. When I started there was still a South County bureau of The Journal and the [Narragansett] Times was a lot stronger then, and I liked that competition. So that was a fun.”Ted Nesi (email@example.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He hosts Executive Suite and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi