Blake Dowling: Read all about it — newspapers, the tapestry of community

It’s a war out there, and I am honored to fight with our team each day.

What is your first memory of an actual newspaper?

For me, I have this image in my head of my grandfather (JD Holman) reading the Ozark Star when I was a kid. Can picture him in Dothan, Alabama, sitting by the fire, dogs at his feet, and telling me to turn down the cartoons (usually Thundarr or Transformers in those days) like it was yesterday (versus 1982).

JD loved reading the paper, and (fun fact for you) my family owned the Ozark Star and ran it for over 150 years.

Cousin Joe Adams was the last to operate the business and he still writes for the paper today.

We salute you Mr. Adams for a job well done — 150-year runs do not often happen in any business.

Man, oh man, do I wish I could time travel to relive that scene at my grandparents’ house.

I was usually trying to grab the comics from my granddad while we both fought over a plate of Lorna Doone cookies and Fig Newtons (the standard snack at the grandparents’ house).

Those were special times, JD was the man, and the newspaper experience was a big part of it.

The Southern Star newspaper in Ozark, Alabama, still in business for 154 years and counting.

Maybe I remember it so clearly, as that was when I first started cutting out news clippings (Calvin and Hobbes were the first, I think). Even though papers like the Star are still around, the newspaper game has changed just a little bit.

Moving back to the future, I asked my friend and recent podcast guest Skip Foster, former publisher of the Tallahassee Democrat, and president of Hammerhead Communications his thoughts on the future of community newspapers. He was conflicted.

Skip Foster, president of Hammerhead Communications. Image via Hammerhead Team.

“I spent 30 years in newspapers, and my last five at the Democrat were some of the most fulfilling years of my life,” Foster said. “When you’re in the trenches, the folks you work with aren’t just co-workers; they become friends. I see them working hard and I see the attacks lobbed at them being so unfair and cruel. I will always treasure our time together in the foxhole.”

“It’s not because of the journalism that newspapers are declining, it’s because of market forces. The telegraph business didn’t decline because telegraph operators were inept; it declined because of a massive market disruption. That happened in the newspaper business with the advent of the internet age. The monopoly on print advertising the newspaper business enjoyed for many decades, disappeared as digital marketing became commoditized. People would be shocked at the size of the newspaper’s digital audience — the problem isn’t eyeballs, it’s monetizing them.”

So, what will happen?

“Eventually, I think you’ll see the proliferation of nonprofit, community- and philanthropically supported news,” Foster explained. “The Texas Tribune in Austin is a great model that’s working.”

Thank you Skip; you can check out our entire conversation here:

I can relate to the “trenches” comment Skip makes, as I feel the exact same about our sister- and brotherhood in our business too. It’s a war out there, and I am honored to fight with our team each day.

As far as the newspaper landscape in 2022, in Florida, there are currently over 327 newspapers in the state.

By circulation, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Tampa Bay Times and Orlando Sentinel would be the top newspapers. While circulation is down, it is said that ad revenue for digital subscriptions will pass print ads in the next few years (by 2026).

You could interpret this data in a few different ways, but the bottom line is it’s a plus for the industry that, despite digital newspapers being their go-to, plenty of revenue and salaries get paid by the print revenue.

And what happens if that dries up more?

On the national level in the year 2000, USA Today had 1,777,488 papers in circulation and this year that number looks like 159,233.

There is not much more room to drop for them, others are not as bad. Like Skip said, in Austin, the Texas Tribune has found a good working model, and in Minneapolis, the Star Tribune had 366,357 papers in circulation 20 years ago, versus just north of 100,000 today.

So, a drop, but not as stark as USA Today.

Magazines are also still finding an audience, so maybe this is where newspapers plateau; although some think that in the coming years, those numbers will go all the way to zero.

However, as I’ve said, revenue from print editions is the primary revenue stream in many markets, so while they tout themselves as digital and cutting edge, they still like those old-school paper editions (in terms of cash flow).

Newspapers, music, movies — if he were still alive, my granddad would not recognize this world today. Maybe I don’t either.

I literally had nowhere to put my CD collection as the car was the last bastion and holdout of my CD kingdom. My last car had a CD player, but the latest vehicle I purchased did not.

I also retired my DVD player, and the only thing left on that list is newspapers.

There is still a place for newspapers in my world and, yes, all these years later I still now and again cut out a headline and save it for the archives.

Life moves at a ridiculous speed for us all; news and information are coming at us fast, so taking one moment and capturing it can be pretty calming when reminiscing or mourning.

The last one I put aside was something I wrote about a colleague who passed away recently. From our community newspaper posted on our office wall, he will live on.

To me, newspapers are part of the tapestry of our community.

Locally, I give a shout-out to William, Martha, Karl, TaMaryn, Bill, and all those that keep fighting the good fight at the Tallahassee Democrat.

I prefer to get the news from someone I know — a neighbor versus some rando in DC/LA.

What about you?

Newspapers are like a time machine and when you cut out a Gator football score, a tribute to a colleague/friend, or even Calvin and Hobbes, that moment is captured for all time, and you can go back and visit as often as you want.

Cheers to that.

I cut this out of the Democrat just this past week to remember my pal, Brad.


Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. He can be reached at [email protected].

Blake Dowling

Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. His technology columns are published by several organizations. Contact him at [email protected] or at

One comment

  • Kay

    October 29, 2022 at 8:47 am

    70 years ago at age 10 we received the morning and evening paper. I loved the comics! I grew up in a mixed black and white neighborhood. All the kids played together, our favorites were placing pennies on the railroad track for the trains to run over, some of the boys liked to play chicken with the trains and playing at jobsites, swinging from the rafters & hoping not to fall into the basement and drown. The black dad’s & the white dads on my street all had jobs.
    Mr. H on one side worked in a factory, my dad drove a truck and Grace on the other side taught kindergarten and her husband detailed cars. Just ordinary people raising kids.
    Color was not an issue on my block.
    All the neighbors were nice to each other. I honestly believe this is the way it still is in real life! I resent the media for trying to convince us to hate the folks next-door! I’m tired of being told that I see color because when I encounter another human walking in or out of Publix and I look them in the face and the eye they’re just another human being stuck on this planet trying to survive just like me.

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