It has been 20 years or so since the names Tara Barnwell, Michael Moffat, Elinor Vincent and Darla Youngs have appeared together on the masthead of “The Freeman’s Journal.” A confluence of events perhaps regarded by some as a perfect storm—or an imperfect storm, by others—has brought us all together again.
“The Freeman’s Journal” is arguably one of the oldest weekly newspapers in the nation. Founded by Judge William Cooper, it began as the “Impartial Observer” in 1808 with publisher William Andrews. A year later, both the name of the paper and the publisher had changed, becoming the “Cooperstown Federalist” under the direction of John H. Prentiss. The newspaper’s flag finally stuck in 1817 and has remained “The Freeman’s Journal” ever since. The Journal’s sister newspaper, “Hometown Oneonta,” is a mere babe in the woods by comparison at just 15 years old.
“So what?” you ask. “Newspapers are dying,” you say. And you aren’t wrong. According to a Northwestern University journalism school report, referenced in “The New York Times” last June, more than 360 newspapers in the U.S. have gone out of business since just before the start of the pandemic. We do not consider these statistics to be a death knell. Instead, we view them as a challenge to do better, to do more. To be more.
You may have noticed the changes in “The Freeman’s Journal” and “Hometown Oneonta” these past few months. We hope you have. Each week, we are experimenting with the layout of the papers, working to fit more news in the available space. We have hired new staff and recruited new contributing writers. We have new advisors and an expanded Editorial Board. We are being creative about how we incorporate the press releases, photographs and news tips we receive. We’re working on a new website. And we’re strategizing ways to increase our advertising base so we can, in turn, increase the news hole.
Essentially, it’s a new year and a new paper. Or is it? Readers familiar with the previous era of Barnwell, Moffat, Vincent, and Youngs may have recognized our return to coverage of people and businesses in the news, or the full-page “Time Out” section we ran several weeks ago, soon to be a regular feature. They may note with nostalgia the return of “The Partial Observer” heading later this month—signifying contributed pieces which may or may not reflect the newspapers’ views, policies and positions.
Moving forward, quite simply, we are dedicated to rebuilding local news. Your news. We want to hear all about your organizations, clubs, businesses, civic groups and libraries. We want to share your births, deaths, weddings, promotions, awards and events. We will strive to cover topics that inform, interest, and entertain you, in both feature and hard news formats. And, of course, we want to continue to be your source as you seek that great sale, popular restaurant, new store or new car.
“The Freeman’s Journal” has served a vital function in Otsego County for more than 200 years. As a small, independent newspaper publishing company in an age of digital media, we have to adjust our role in today’s news ecosystem to ensure we do not meet the same fate as so many others of our kind. There is work to do, and don’t we know it. The gang’s all here, dear readers and advertisers. Now all we need, to beat the odds, is you.