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(Above: Staff of the Mon Valley Independent pose for a picture to celebrate the Monessen-based paper's one-year anniversary. Mon Valley Independent photo.)
More than a year after the closure of McKeesport's 131-year-old Daily News, two other local print newspapers are expanding into the Mon-Yough area.
Munhall's weekly newspaper, The Valley Mirror, which serves communities in the West Mifflin, Steel Valley and Woodland Hills school districts, has added coverage of Dravosburg, Glassport and Port Vue, among other McKeesport suburbs.
Meanwhile, Monessen's new daily newspaper, the Mon Valley Independent, celebrated its one-year anniversary on May 2 by beginning to sell papers in McKeesport.
At stake for both the Independent and the Mirror --- at least in part --- is the revenue from legal advertisements that Pennsylvania municipalities are required to place in newspapers of "general circulation." McKeesport officials are already considering a shift of the city's legal advertisements from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to the Mon Valley Independent to save money.
"We're excited about being in McKeesport, but we want to do it right," said Jeff Oliver, general manager of the Monessen paper, in a phone interview this week.
The Mon Valley Independent is now available in about 30 retail outlets in McKeesport, White Oak, Port Vue, Liberty and Versailles, Oliver said. Some limited home delivery is also available in McKeesport, he said, mostly adjacent to areas where drivers are already delivering to retail stores, but the paper hopes to expand.
Oliver was the sports editor of the former Valley Independent of Monessen. Along with the Daily News, the 113-year-old Valley Independent was owned by Trib Total Media, publisher of the Greensburg Tribune-Review and a string of other weekly and daily newspapers in Western Pennsylvania.
Following the death of Trib Total Media's publisher and owner, billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife, his newspaper empire shrank dramatically. While some newspapers, including the Connellsville Daily Courier in Fayette County, found new owners, the McKeesport and Monessen papers were permanently closed on Dec. 31, 2015.
The presses at the Daily News have since been removed and the building is vacant, save for its use briefly last year as a filiming location for the upcoming TV series "Mind Hunter."
The Pittsburgh edition of the Tribune-Review also closed in November 2016.
Oliver is a native of Monessen and a Monessen High School alumnus who attended Penn State's McKeesport Campus and graduated from California University of Pennsylvania in 1980. After a brief stint at the former Monongahela, Pa., Daily Herald in Washington County, Oliver joined the Valley Independent's staff.
He's been there, and at the new Mon Valley Independent, ever since. "I've had a lot of chances to leave, but I love working in my hometown," Oliver said.
Like the Daily News, which was owned by the Mansfield family of McKeesport for much of its existence, the Valley Independent was once locally owned. But it was sold twice --- first to the national Thomson newspapers chain in 1988 and then to Scaife in 1996.
Employees at both the McKeesport and Monessen papers were represented by unions, and when Trib Total Media decided to divest those papers, the contracts with their employees --- covering production personnel at the Daily News and editorial staff at the Independent --- were widely seen as a barrier to a potential purchaser.
The Trib announced that no buyers could be found and that the papers would instead close.
When that happened, Oliver said, the Monessen area rallied. Four local investors created a new company, Mid Mon Valley Publishing LLC. The first edition of the new Mon Valley Independent was distributed on May 2, 2016.
The new newspaper hired about 27 of 36 former Valley Independent staffers and has since acquired the archives of the old publication from the Tribune-Review. Unlike its predecessor, it is not unionized, Oliver said.
It publishes six days a week, Monday through Saturday, and is printed by Trib Total Media's Valley News Dispatch in Tarentum. The single-copy price is $1, and only subscribers may read stories on the Mon Valley Independent's website.
The paper does not release circulation figures; Oliver said, however, that sales and subscriptions are steadily going up, by at least 115 copies per month.
"We're definitely bigger and better than we were, even six months ago," he said.
The old Valley Independent covered some news from the Elizabeth Forward School District, but its focus communities were in the Monessen, Ringgold and Charleroi school districts. The new Mon Valley Independent has added more news from Elizabeth and Elizabeth Twp., to fill the gap left by the Daily News' closure, as well as from the Yough and Frazier school districts in Westmoreland and Fayette counties.
"From the time we opened, we have had people from McKeesport and Clairton calling us and saying, 'Please come down here, please come down here,'" Oliver said.
McKeesport Mayor Mike Cherepko echoed Oliver's sentiments.
"Everywhere I go, people tell me they want to see a newspaper again," Cherepko said earlier this month. "We have an older population and they do not reap the benefit of being online. I appreciate what Tube City Online does, but I also know a lot of our people don't read the news online."
And although the city also receives coverage from the Post-Gazette, he said, it's a large regional paper with a Pittsburgh focus, and day-to-day events in McKeesport aren't highlighted.
Cherepko said his meetings with Oliver and the Mon Valley Independent team have been encouraging.
For readers --- especially older ones --- who were dependent on a printed product, he said, the Mon Valley Independent's entry into McKeesport is an opportunity to "promote the positive things going on in the city."
As long as readers aren't expecting the Mon Valley Independent to only feature McKeesport stories, Cherepko added, they will likely be satisfied.
"They're not going to open up a paper filled with McKeesport articles," he said. "What I will tell you is that I think it's almost a good thing that we had a year off (without a daily newspaper). I think people now miss it and will appreciate it."
City officials said they also appreciate the chance to save money on legal advertising. All Pennsylvania municipalities are required to place paid advertisements in print newspapers to announce public meetings, changes to ordinances or regulations, solicit bids on contracts and perform other routine functions.
But communities are only supposed to advertise in newspapers that are regularly delivered in those communities.
McKeesport used the Daily News as its so-called "newspaper of record" until the end of 2015, when it switched to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. When the Pittsburgh edition of the Tribune-Review closed in November 2016, the city moved its legal advertising to the Post-Gazette, the only daily newspaper still widely sold in McKeesport.
According to a rate card on the Post-Gazette's website, a legal ad in the newspaper costs more than $6 per line on weekdays and more than $8 per line on Sundays. The Mon Valley Independent is "substantially less," Cherepko said. "I don't even think it's a comparison in terms of the price."
If the Mon Valley Independent establishes itself in McKeesport, Cherepko said, "we will evaluate doing our advertising there instead of in the Post-Gazette."
Oliver said that people interested in subscribing to the Mon Valley Independent should call the newspaper at (712) 314-0035, or visit the website at www.monvalleyindependent.com.
Founded in 1981, the Valley Mirror also incorporates the former Braddock Free Press. Locally owned and published by Marilyn Schiavoni, the Mirror has a limited website at www.valleymirror.com and does not post its articles online.
Subscriptions are $45 for 52 weekly issues, delivered by U.S. Mail. Single copies are available for 50 cents as select retail locations in the Mon-Yough area. For more information, call (412) 462-0626.
Originally published May 26, 2017.