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Wyoming’s news desert continues to expand

Three Pinedale Roundup newspapers showing articles written about the wolf incident.
Caitlin Tan
Wyoming Public Media
News Media Corporation recently purchased the Pinedale Roundup. They also own 15 other papers.

Even though Wyoming has a newspaper in every county, it still qualifies as a news desert since it no longer has a statewide daily newspaper. Last year, the Casper Star Tribune went down to publishing three days a week. Other papers in the state publish even less frequently.

Cindy Price Schultz is the head of the journalism department at the University of Wyoming, and said some Wyoming legacy newspapers that are 100 years old or more are getting purchased by large corporations. She said the priority no longer seems to be keeping citizens informed on a daily basis.

“Now you see really big companies, like say Townsquare Media or Clear Channel on the broadcasting side, or you'll see some others, like Gannett, and Lee and some other very large newspaper groups, they are owning each other too,” Schultz said. “So it's not so much thinking about the news, because instead of becoming news, which was defended by the First Amendment of the Constitution and the freedom of the press and free speech, all of those things that we hold dear in the United States – it's becoming a commodity.”

Schultz said prioritizing profits sometimes means news organizations cut higher wage positions, like editors. Adams Publishing Group owns four papers in the state, including the Laramie Boomerang, the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, the Rock Springs Miner and the Rawlins Times. Another corporation, News Media Corporation, recently purchased the Pinedale Roundup and laid off the entire staff except one reporter. They own 15 other papers in Wyoming, including the Torrington Telegram, the Cheyenne Minuteman and the Kemmerer Gazette.

“It's really all based on money,” Schultz said. “It costs money to have a person higher up in the chain of management. So if it's cheaper to hire just a reporter than it is to have an editor, then that reporter, [who’s] maybe really new out of college and doesn't really know how to edit themselves, then that isn't necessarily the fault of that person, because they're still learning their job. People oftentimes don't have that mentorship like they used to.”

Schultz said Wyoming is lucky to still have newspapers in every county, unlike many other rural states. But she says it remains to be seen whether their editors can find someone to take over when they are ready to retire.

“That has become an issue in many parts of the U.S.,” she said, “especially in more rural areas, where maybe the money that you can make as even, say, an editor of a paper isn't enough where you could live in that community, where you couldn't even rent an apartment, hardly. Several of the mountain towns in this state are very expensive.”

Schultz said the cost of paper, printing and postage also threaten papers’ longevity. She says the disappearance of local news is a threat to democracy since it keeps citizens connected to each other and governments transparent.

Melodie Edwards is the host and producer of WPM's award-winning podcast The Modern West. Her Ghost Town(ing) series looks at rural despair and resilience through the lens of her hometown of Walden, Colorado. She has been a radio reporter at WPM since 2013, covering topics from wildlife to Native American issues to agriculture.

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