With closure of Rantoul Press and cutbacks at Commercial News, local newspapers continue to shrink

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The News-Gazette’s owners are shutting down the Rantoul Press this week – while the Commercial News, based in Danville, has announced it is reducing its days of publication from five to three.

CU-Citizenaccess.org first reported on Friday, Sept. 25 that the Rantoul Press, which has been in operation for 145 years, was being closed.

Paul Barrett, executive vice president and publisher of the Champaign Media Group, which owns the Champaign-based News-Gazette, declined to comment at that time and  said the News-Gazette would publish its own story about the move next week.

“As a journalist you can understand that we’d like to break our own story in our own way….with the facts,” Barrett wrote in an email response to questions about the closure.

Editorial staff on the News-Gazette also declined to comment Friday and referred calls to Barrett.

But on Saturday night, Sept. 26, The Rantoul Press announced the closure on its website , noting that the last day of publication is Wednesday, Sept. 30. (Read here) Retail advertising has “waned, especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the story stated. 

Barrett cited mounting financial losses as the reason for the closure, the Rantoul Press reported. 

“The fact of the matter is in order for a newspaper to survive these days it has to have the support of the community it serves … With less than 600 subscribers, the Press was not going to survive,” he told the Press.

Coverage of Rantoul will now be in the News-Gazette’s ‘County’ section, which appears six days a week, the Press reported. 

“The Press’ own Dave Hinton will become the editor of that section to give Rantoul a leg up in coverage on a daily, rather than a weekly basis,” Barrett told the paper. 

The News-Gazette was sold in 2019 to Community Media Group’s Champaign Media Group as part of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy agreement and the new owners substantially reduced staff through layoffs and retirements. The new owners also closed down its Danville bureau, which served Vermilion County. 

Community Media Group is based in Illinois and operates newspapers and web sites in the Midwest and on the east coast.

The Rantoul Press has been in operation since  the late 1800s, according to the article. It was  published weekly on Wednesdays and wast was formerly owned by Glenn Hansen, who died in 2008. The News-Gazette bought the Press in 2004.

“It’s sad because it’s been our little newspaper,” said Kaye Heath, secretary and treasurer of the Rantoul Historical Society and Museum. 

Heath, 75, is a lifelong resident of Rantoul and said that in addition to retaining a copy of the full paper, the historical society often clips articles from the newspaper, such as fires and other happenings, for their files. 

“We’re going to miss it,” she said. 

The paper provided in-depth information, captured local history and gave Rantoul residents a platform to “express support or opposition” to local, state and national issues, said Village Administrator Scott Eisenhauer. 

“It is disheartening to see a communication lifeline for a community come to an end, especially at a time when so much positive is happening in the Village,” Eisenhauer said in an email. “ To see those ‘voices in print’ silenced after 145 years is truly sad, and creates a significant void in documenting Rantoul’s growth for future generations to research.”

A 2020 study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that in the U.S. “half of the counties have only one newspaper, and two-thirds do not have a daily newspaper.”

Just last week, Vermilion County’s other local newspaper, The Commercial News, announced it was reducing its publication days from five days a week to three days a week. It also furloughed staff. 

In April, the Commercial News had announced a reduction in publication days from six days a week to five days a week, citing the economic impact from the Covid-19 pandemic. The ongoing pandemic was cited again as the reason for this recent announcement of reduction in publication. 

The Commercial News did not return messages Friday seeking comment. It is owned by CNHI, LLC based in Montgomery, Alabama.

The original story was updated on Sunday, Sept 27, 2020 with new information.

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