News Local/State

National Newspapers Harder To Find In Champaign-Urbana, After News-Gazette Ends Distribution

A newspaper rack for the Illinois Readership Program at the University of Illinois Illini Union.

A newspaper rack at the Illini Union offers copies of national newspapers to University of Illinois students. National papers disappeared from Champaign-Urbana newsstands, after the News-Gazette ended local distribution, but the Illinois Readership Program found a new distributor after a few days of disrupted service. Jim Meadows/Illinois Public Media.

National newspapers are now harder to find in Champaign-Urbana. The local paper, the News-Gazette, stopped delivering those papers to homes and newsstands earlier this month.

As a subscriber, Bruce Reznick could always read the New York Times online, if he wanted to. But the University of Illinois math professor and native New Yorker says that for truly critical reading, he prefers reading from a printed page.

“Yes, there's something palpable about having a newspaper in your hands,” said Reznick, who responded to Illinois Public Media’s social media request for comment from local readers of national newspapers. “There's something about being in Urbana, Illinois, which is sort of out of the way and yet being connected through a physical object that is from New York City.”

But the News-Gazette, which has distributed the Times and three other national newspapers in Champaign-Urbana since taking over from the defunct C-U News Agency in 2015, is no longer doing so. James Berbutes, circulation director for the Community Media Group, says they dropped the distribution contract when they took over the paper in early November. Under the contract, the News-Gazette had been distributing the New York Times, USA Today and the USA Today Sports Weekly, the Chicago Tribune and the Wall Street Journal and its sister publication Barron’s. The News-Gazette’s new publisher, Paul Barrett, did not respond to a request for comment.

Losing daily delivery of the New York Times was a big disruption for Gale Warden’s 90-year-old father. Warden says the retired minister is a faithful Times reader, and tied to the Times’ print edition.

“I tried to get my father set up with an online version which, he does have a computer, but he's not comfortable with that,” said Warden. “That's not his reading experience.”

The halt in distribution has also affected the Urbana Free Library and Champaign Public Library and their patrons. Champaign Public Library Adult Services Manager Tricia Duzan says “there have been frustrations expressed” by patrons who came to the library regularly to read the Times, Journal, Tribune and USA Today.

“You know daily, we see people coming in, first thing in the morning, going over, grabbing the paper, sitting down in a comfy chair and reading,” said Duzan. “For many folks, this is a part of their daily routine.” At the Urbana Free Library, Adult & Youth Services Director Rachel Fuller reports a similar situation. Both libraries offer free online access to at least some of the national newspapers to library cardholders.

The lack of national newspaper delivery was relieved after a few days when two of the papers, the Wall Street Journal and USA Today, began same-day mail delivery to replace the previous home delivery. The libraries, as well as home and business subscribers, now receive those papers with daily mail delivery, usually several hours later than the previous morning delivery. (Gale Warden says she got her father a Wall Street Journal subscription to replace the New York Times).

A spokesperson for the New York Times says they are also looking for alternative means of delivery.

All this time, the newspapers in question have been available to subscribers online. But Gale Warden says that while she reads the New York Times online, an online newspaper doesn’t have the communal aspect of a printed one.

“Printed versions of the paper are communal entities,” said Warden. “They're at the library. You might give it to your neighbor. They're in waiting rooms. And not everybody has internet, not everybody has the $20 for an online subscription, so through communal papers (they) get to see printed news. And when you take that away from a whole community, that changes the nature of the knowledge of the community.

Cara Finnegan also misses her home-delivered New York Times. Finnegan says that as the daughter of a newspaper editor (the late John Finnegan, an editor at the St. Paul, Minnesota, Pioneer Press), she grew up to love reading a daily printed newspaper.

“There’s a kind of habit of reading that you get into with the paper newspaper, that’s different from digital. I can access the New York Times in a number of different ways, including through my affiliation with the university and the library database. But, I have colleagues in my own department, which is the Department of Communication (at the University of Illinois), who’ve done research. And people read a newspaper differently when they read the physical version, as opposed to online. And I noticed that too, and I like that.”

In addition, the national papers once handled by the News-Gazette are no longer sold at convenience stores, drugstores and other locations in Champaign-Urbana.

National newspapers can still be found at the University of Illinois, where the Collegiate Readership Program provides them for students at news racks at campus buildings. U of I students pay an annual fee for the newspapers, which are meant for use by students only. Associate Dean of Students Rhonda Kirts says the Gannett Company, which oversees the Collegiate Readership Program, was able to locate another distributor after just a few days of disrupted service.

UPDATE: This story was revised to correct the spelling of Bruce Reznick's name. - JM 11/25/19

Follow Jim Meadows on Twitter at @WILLJim Meadows .