Town library starts newspaper after local paper shuttered

A small New Hampshire town library offers a model of how others can step in to provide information for communities in 'news deserts.'

Charles Krupa/AP
Copies of Weare in the World are prepped for distribution at the public library in Weare, N.H., on Jan. 22. After the local paper stopped production a year ago, the local library began publishing its own newspaper.

Weeks after Weare's only newspaper shut down, a resident had a proposal: The library should start one.

Librarian Mike Sullivan jumped on the idea and, for the past year, has been producing Weare in the World.

The four-page publication comes out every week and is heavy on community events and calendar listings. The front page of one paper had a short story about an elementary school Lego team, a police association scholarship, and details on a local bar's Super Bowl party. There is also a popular crossword puzzle that has clues for local businesses or other landmarks in the town with 9,000 residents.

The goal is to create a sense of community and local pride, more civic engagement, and "more energy around things that do happen around town," said Mr. Sullivan, who produces 200 copies of the newspaper by himself in his tiny office crowded with boxes of donated books and several guitars he uses for music lessons.

The paper has no paid ads, and Sullivan estimates each issue costs the library about $25, not including staff time.

The newspaper is the latest example of a library stepping into what Sullivan describes as a news desert to cover community news.

David Beard, a journalist who is finishing up a Harvard University research fellowship and has written about the paper for the Poynter Institute, said similar projects have been undertaken elsewhere. In South Dakota, there is the Black Hills Network that takes information from 13 libraries. NOWCastSA, which describes itself as public television for the internet, is run out of a San Antonio, Texas, library.

"It's more like a first step – listing and covering events, town histories, showing what makes a place unique and distinctive," Mr. Beard said. "So many places in America don't even have that now. If it stokes the need for greater news coverage in the town, all the better."

But some suggest library newspapers are a poor substitute for the real thing, since they often lack fully reported stories, actual reporters, and independence from town institutions.

Tommy Thomason, director of the Texas Center for Community Journalism, said the trend reflects residents' desire for information but also exposes the unique role that newspapers play in gathering it.

Librarians are experts in curating information that is already out there, not going out and getting information, he said.

"I can't see a library ever sending someone to cover a school board meeting or a city council meeting," he said, "or, 'Hey, there is a fire on the other side of town. We need to roll a librarian.'"

Sullivan is quick to acknowledge the shortcomings of his newspaper – call it a newsletter if you want, he says – but insists it is providing a much-needed public service. The quarterly that served the town, the Weare Free Press, closed last year and reporters from nearby dailies and weeklies rarely cover the town, he said.

"This has an awful lot of similarities to the early, early community newspapers," Sullivan said. "It is a bit of a throwback and it's meant to serve the people who don't get their information through Facebook" or other online sources.

Boosters of the paper, including many town officials, said it is the only place residents can get information on events such as the annual Christmas party, the Weare Patriotic Celebration, or town meetings. They say attendance at such events is up since Sullivan's paper started publishing.

"Need to know time and place of an activity in town, it's now at your fingertips," Heleen Kurk, a former selectman and current town historical society board member, said in an email interview. "So yes, this little newspaper is making a difference."

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

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