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Coronavirus crisis strikes blow to Nevada rural newspapers

Six newspapers serving Nevada’s rural cities — including several founded 150 years ago — will scale back or cease publication altogether as the uncertainties around the COVID-19 pandemic have further stressed the already-difficult local news industry.

Battle Born Media, a company co-founded by former Review-Journal Publisher Sherman Frederick, announced the changes to staff on Thursday, the company’s now former chief operating officer, Kirk Kern, confirmed Saturday.

Kern said the Mesquite Local News, founded in 2006, will cease publication. The Eureka Sentinel, founded in 1870, has been folded into The Ely Times.

The Lincoln County Record, also founded in 1870, was slated for the chopping block. However, Ben Rowley, who had been running the Record for Battle Born on a freelance basis, will be taking over ownership of the paper.

Rowley said Saturday he is working out the final logistical steps with the printer, and he hopes the paper will not miss a single Friday publication during the changeover. He said that he believes the paper serves an important purpose in his community and that localized ownership can make it viable once more.

The websites for Battle Born’s now-defunct newspapers will remain active but will not be updated, Kern said.

Sparks Tribune will continue to operate, though one of the paper’s three part-time employees was let go, Kern said.

Discussions on the Mineral County Independent-News’ future are ongoing, Kern said, but he does not expect it to survive.

In all, at least four full-time employees and six part-time or freelance staffers were let go as part of the changes.

Advertising has been on the decline for years but took an even sharper downturn in recent weeks, Kern said. Circulation and online readership have remained steady but are difficult to monetize in the ways needed to keep up with printing costs.

“Just keeping these papers going for the last nine years or so has been a challenge,” Kern said. “The owners didn’t take this on to make money — at least not a lot of money. They did it to keep these papers going — to have their voices in these rural Nevada communities.”

He added that most of the papers would have folded years ago if not for Battle Born’s efforts. Although the Sparks and Ely papers will continue for now, Kern said they may only last for a few more weeks.

“It’s been kind of a gratifying ride just keeping them going as long as we have,” Kern said.

The Local News, County Record, Ely Times and Eureka Sentinel were once published by Stephens Media, the former parent company of the Review-Journal.

Noah Cusick, the Review-Journal’s president for niche publications and publisher of the Pahrump Valley Times and Boulder City Review, called the news “a real tragedy” for the publications’ owners, employees and communities.

“A lot of newspapers across the United States are operating by a very thin margin,” said Cusick, who is president of the Nevada Press Association. “They’ve been hanging on by their fingernails for years. This coronavirus development is really going to push a lot of newspapers over that edge.”

Richard Karpel, executive director of the association, called the changes “sad for the newspapers, sad for their employees and sad for the communities they cover.”

Karpel said the rural residents served by these papers tend to be older, and many were struggling with poverty even before the coronavirus began to spread. Some don’t have internet access, meaning they’ve lost one of their only sources of media and news during a crisis.

“The troubling question is whether this is a harbinger of things to come,” Karpel said. “This is happening now because of a public health crisis. You wonder what other vulnerable small businesses are going through.”

Contact Rory Appleton at RAppleton@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0276. Follow @RoryDoesPhonics on Twitter.

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