Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
RICHLAND — The Clarion-Plainsman is adding another chapter to its history.
The paper, whose roots trace back to 1881, is transitioning ownership to the employee-owned Southeast Iowa Union. The transition of ownership began with publication of the May 19 edition.
“The Clarion-Plainsman is a great fit for the Southeast Iowa Union family of publications. We know these communities and we have the resources readily available to help make The Clarion-Plainsman an even stronger hometown newspaper,” Southeast Iowa Union Publisher Matt Bryant said.
Readers shouldn’t expect wholesale changes to the newspaper in coming months, Bryant said. The paper will continue as a weekly title distributed by mail on Thursdays. Increased local content from the region will be a staple going forward, as the reporting team from the Southeast Iowa Union will support the Clarion-Plainsman, Bryant said.
Bryant has been publisher in Washington since 2009, Mount Pleasant since 2013, and has been publisher in Fairfield since 2019. A member of his family has been a newspaper publisher in Iowa since 1903.
Managing Editor Melissa Robison, who has been with the paper for over a decade, will continue to produce the paper under the new ownership. The paper will continue to operate an office in Richland. The paper’s Internet content will be published on the Southeast Iowa Union’s website at www.southeastiowaunion.com.
The Southeast Iowa Union is a part of an employee-owned organization Folience, also the parent company of The Gazette in Cedar Rapids. The Gazette — which will handle some business processes for The Clarion-Plainsman — purchased the Washington Evening Journal, Fairfield Ledger and Mount Pleasant News in 2016, and started the Union in 2019. The combined circulation of the titles is about 4,500.
“This is such a great opportunity for us to grow our coverage of Southeast Iowa through the pages of the Union and The Clarion-Plainsman. We can now provide more local and area content to the readers of both publications plus provide even greater reach for our advertising partners,” Bryant said.
Sycamore Media, which publishes nine community newspapers including Maquoketa Sentinel-Press, DeWitt Observer, acquired the Clarion-Plainsman with five other titles about a year earlier upon retirement of longtime owner Mike Hodges. The idea for transitioning ownership to the Union came up earlier this Spring. Geographic proximity of the Union meant it would likely be able to provide the paper with additional resources.
“We wanted to find something that would be a win for all parties and would allow The Clarion-Plainsman to continue operating and serving Iowa communities,” Sycamore Media President Trevis Mayfield said. “We’re hopeful that this transition does that.”
There is significant transition in media ownership and newspaper titles, both in Iowa and nationally in recent years, with at least eight of the state’s 250 papers combining or changing ownership in Iowa this year alone. The switches are driven by reductions in ad-supported news, changes to patterns coming out of the pandemic, as well as an aging group of individual owners and changes to national ownership groups.
There are several different approaches to the future that newspapers are experimenting with, but studies show that communities that have a local newspaper are more efficient for the taxpayers, Iowa Newspaper Association Executive Director Susan Patterson Plank said.
“The future of journalism isn’t at risk,” Patterson Plank said. “Media is challenged by changes to the business model. And in some rural communities in Iowa, that’s because there are economic challenges that impact many local businesses, from newspapers to hardware stores.”
While The Clarion-Plainsman has a smaller circulation, there are natural economic ties between communities that make the future bright, Bryant said.
“Our goal is to grow and thrive in our communities and avoid many of the perils other publications have unfortunately faced. By combining the resources and talents of the Union and Clarion-Plainsman, we are positioning ourselves to be important and valuable community supporters long into the future.”