In rough-and-tumble market, Pioneer blazes new trails

By Denisen Hartlove on June 10, 2013

Proving wrong doomsayers’ rumors that print journalism is dead, the Clayton Pioneer newspaper recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, with the City Council naming May as Clayton Pioneer month.

The proclamation noted that “the Clayton Pioneer is the “go-to” newspaper in Clayton providing reliable and unparalleled professional coverage of local community, government, and school news and events.”

Readership of the community newspaper has grown consistently over the years, beginning with 5,400 homes in Clayton in 2003. Three years ago, the paper expanded its free delivery service to Concord – adding 7,200 in the 94521 zip code. This month, the circulation is further increased with delivery to 2,500 additional homes in the 94518 zip code.

With budgets chopped by corporate number crunchers, many of the bigger news corporations – Bay Area News Group, for instance, and CNN.com– have been forced to cut editorial staffs, and simply don’t have the manpower available to offer more than a cursory glance at the issues of the areas they aim to serve.

Unlike other news sources based out of the area, with editors striving to find coverage from thousands of miles away, the Pioneer’s reporting comes from within. Pioneer owner and editor Tamara Steiner attributed the paper’s longstanding success to that local involvement.

“Our staff lives in the community we serve and serves the community where we live,” Steiner said. “The columnists and writers are all local.”

That is where local – and sometimes hyper-local – print journalism is picking up, not just in Clayton, but throughout the nation.

Warren Buffett Weighs In

One person who believes the newspaper industry has a chance to continue is Warren Buffett. Berkshire Hathaway, of which Buffett serves as CEO, has purchased 28 daily print newspapers in just over a year’s time, to the tune of $344 million.

In his annual letter to shareholders, Buffett acknowledged that for reporting on certain subjects – national sports scores and stock quotes were two he noted – the Internet reigns supreme, reporting the details as quickly as they occur.

But he said locally-based newspapers have a special relevance to the populations they serve.

“If you want to know what’s going on in your town – whether the news is about the mayor or taxes or high school football – there is no substitute for a local newspaper that is doing its job.” Buffet said.

“A reader’s eyes may glaze over after they take in a couple of paragraphs about Canadian tariffs or political developments in Pakistan; a story about the reader himself or his neighbors will be read to the end.”

Over the years, the Pioneer has covered everything from a Boy Scout troop’s building project to area-wide battles over Clayton Valley High School’s charter petition. Weddings, soap box derbies, political scandals and business booms alike have been reported within its pages.

Denise Rousset, who serves as publisher and editor of a similar publication in the Danville area, the Valley Sentinel, sees this local coverage as the vital difference between the huge dailies and publications like hers and the Pioneer.

“This is not interesting to the big papers,” she said of subjects such as municipal news and pee-wee sports. “They’re more anchored on the latest scandal with the latest politician, or whatever. We don’t have to bang that drum. We can focus on the things that are really important, like where your money’s being spent, how the town council is doing, how the schools are doing. These things are what impact the lifestyle of the people who are living here.”

Steiner meanwhile, sees continued growth both of the local print papers and the Pioneer in particular.

“Print news is not dead. It’s going to live, and live on in the community papers,” she said. “Quality content and relevance will never be obsolete.”

“This is our tenth anniversary. On our tenth anniversary we’re growing stronger.”

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