By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — For the past 16 years, Laconia has been the lone city north of Boston served by two local daily newspapers, but this distinction will be lost at the end of the month following the announcement by George Sample, chief executive officer of the Sample News Group that The Citizen will cease publication on Sept. 30.
Sample said the decision reflected the mounting financial pressures on newspapers, which weigh particularly heavily on those operating in smaller and competitive markets. He added that efforts to sell the business during the past several months were unsuccessful.
The Sample News Group, headquartered in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, purchased The Citizen from the George J. Foster Company of Dover in 2010, within months of acquiring Eagle Printing and Publishing Company of Claremont, publisher of the Eagle-Times, which had filed for bankruptcy protection the year before.
"We have tried for several months to sell the paper, but unfortunately we were unable to find a buyer, said Sample. "We have enjoyed our six years serving the Lakes Region, and we're proud of the efforts our team has made in producing a very good hometown newspaper."
Ed Pierce, the editor of The Citizen, said that in recent years the paper concentrated its efforts at reaching a wider readership through its online edition and social media by posting breaking news the moment it occurred. As a result, he said that "We enjoyed unparalleled growth in the digital and social media markets." He said that when The Citizen announced that Steven Tyler would perform during Motorcycle Week its website tallied 23,984 views and last month it drew 341,859 hits along with the nearly 6,000 likes registered on the Facebook page. Pierce said that The Citizen had the least online traffic of all the papers in the Sample New Group's stable, but in August had risen to top of the list.
However, Pierce acknowledged that the growth of revenue from digital advertising has fallen far short of the expansion of online readership. Meanwhile, the costs of producing and distributing the print edition of the paper have risen steadily.
"The paper had turned a corner," he said, "but not fast enough for the investors."
Pierce said that most of the 14 employees at The Citizen, which includes eight in the newsroom, will be offered positions elsewhere in the Sample News Group, which has a strong presence in Pennsylvania as well as daily and weekly newspapers in New York, New Jersey, Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire. Pierce himself will become executive editor of The Journal Tribune in Biddeford, Maine, next month.
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Paper had 90-year run
The newspaper was started by Edward J. Gallagher in 1926 and for years was known as the Laconia Evening Citizen. Gallagher, who would later become Laconia's mayor, was also the author of a biography of Stilson Hutchins, founder of the Washington Post. The Citizen was owned by Gallagher's daughter, Alma Gallagher Smith, and her husband, Lawrence J. Smith, following Gallagher's death in 1978. The Smiths operated the newspaper until the George J. Foster Company purchased the paper on May 10, 1991. Foster was the publisher of Foster's Daily Democrat in Dover.
In the late 1990s, the Foster Company launched Foster's Sunday Citizen as a joint venture by Foster's Daily Democrat and The Citizen, neither of which previously had a Sunday edition.
The Citizen was named Small Newspaper of the Year in 1992, 1993 and 2001 by the New England Newspaper Association.
The Foster Company announced on June 23, 2010, that it would sell the paper on June 26, in order to concentrate on their main property, Foster's Daily Democrat. The company said it would continue to print The Citizen and the Laconia edition of the Sunday Citizen at its presses for at least the next three months. The new owner was Sample News Group, publisher of multiple daily and weekly newspapers across the northeastern United States.
The Citizen reported Friday that the decision to close the newspaper "comes amid growing financial pressure on the newspaper industry, particularly in smaller markets being served by multiple publications.
– Roger Amsden