Ashland mourns the loss of 137-year-old newspaper

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Print this page by Gary Robertson
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The Herald-Progress in Ashland closed on the same day in late March.
Photo by Caroline Martin

In an era when newspapers nationwide are struggling to survive, it should have come as no surprise that a weekly in Hanover County would close abruptly.

But there was surprise and anguish when the Ashland-based Herald-Progress ceased publication in late March, after 137 years. “It’s a real loss for the community,” says Ashland Mayor Jim Foley, who moved to the Hanover town of 7,500 about 20 years ago.

Foley says he has no idea whether another community newspaper will take the place of the Herald-Progress or whether an existing publication might take over hyper-local coverage of the town and Hanover County. “[It] remains to be seen … that someone else will pick up the pieces,” he says.

Herald-Progress employees were informed two days before the final edition that the newspaper was closing. “We’re all kind of in shock,” says Betty Luck, a news assistant.

In addition to the Herald-Progress, a sister weekly, the Caroline Progress, which covered Caroline County and its environs for 99 years, also closed March 29. The newspapers had six full-time staff members as well as a number of regional correspondents and part-timers.

The papers were owned by Morristown, Tenn.-based Lakeway Publishers Inc., which has 22 other publications.

In identical messages in the final editions of the Herald-Progress and Caroline Progress, R. Jack Fishman, Lakeway’s president, says the newspapers were “no longer commercially viable.”

Four other Virginia weekly papers owned by the company, however, are doing well, says Steve Weddle, vice president of Lakeway Publishers of Virginia. The group includes three newspapers in the Northern Neck area — the Northern Neck News, the Westmoreland News and the Northumberland Echo — and The Central Virginian based in Louisa.

Tom Harris, Hanover County’s public information officer, worked for the Herald-Progress for 16 years. He laments the national cultural shift that has made newspapers, and print journalism generally, a tough sell.

“I grew up reading a newspaper,” the 60-year-old Harris says.  “But now I’m the father of children in their 20s, and picking up a newspaper is for them an old-fashioned way to learn things.”

Harris says that for his generation a local newspaper was like a member of the family and an important part of daily life.

“It was not just about going to a board of supervisors meeting or covering a court case. It was about knowing the people down the street and knowing their values,” Harris says, describing the role of a community newspaper.

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