A little town with a lot of newspapers

One town, five papers. Tombstone has more newspapers than Bisbee, Sierra Vista, and Douglas combined, but they manage to play nice with each other and maintain their own niches.

The Tombstone Epitaph local edition (the one you’re reading), the Tombstone Epitaph National Edition, The Tombstone News, The Tombstone Times and The Tombstone Gazette are all newspapers, but the content and focus of each publication sets them apart from the others.

Whereas the local edition of The Tombstone Epitaph and The Tombstone News report on breaking news, environmental problems and controversial issues concerning the town and surrounding areas, the others concentrate on historical information, advertising for local events and organizations, opinion columns and local-interest features.

Janice Hendricks, publisher and editor of the monthly Tombstone Times, explained that The Times is different from the other publications in that it’s more of a history and information journal.

“We don’t cover anything at all that has to do with current topics except in my little column, I call it ‘Rumor Has It,'” Hendricks said of the monthly publication she co-owns and edits with her husband, Keith Davis. She cited wedding announcements and business grand-openings as examples of matters she might discuss in her column.

Similarly, the national edition of The Tombstone Epitaph, one of two descendants of the oldest continually published newspaper in Arizona, is geared towards “anyone who’s interested in Western history,” said Bonnie Short, manager at The Tombstone Epitaph’s museum off of Allen Street. That edition has been published by Tombstone Epitaph, Inc. since 1964 at 9 S. 5th Street, but the monthly paper is not printed on sight.

The weekly Tombstone Gazette covers current local news more frequently than The Times and The Epitaph National Edition, but recently retired Gazette co-owner Deirdre Nye said she thinks the Gazette keeps it “gentle” when reporting stories.

“The Tombstone Gazette is for the children, for the town and the community,” Nye said. “I wanted to keep it very light and uplifting. I kept away from politics as much as I could.”

The Gazette features information on school events, local government and area happenings. One section is set aside for local residents to post notices about meetings and announcements, reinforcing the Gazette’s role as a community-centered publication.

The cheerful tone of The Gazette may not be enough to keep it in publication. Nye, who retired due to an illness, said the publishers “weren’t making much money” and that under her replacement and former Gazette columnist, Mike Carrafa, the community paper will be heading in a different direction. Carrafa was unavailable for comment.

If this new direction expands the publication’s hard-news reporting, it could increase the competition between newspapers in the area, which could be a good thing, according to Stan Schwartz, communications director for the National Newspaper Association, a trade group that represents small town papers.

“People always talk about how competition makes everything a little bit better and people try harder,” Schwartz said.

Even with competition being beneficial for the quality of news in an area, Schwartz acknowledged that it is unusual for such a tiny town like Tombstone to have so many papers. Most small towns have a smaller news menu.

“You’ll have your regular newspaper, and then someone will come in and start a total-market coverage publication, a free distribution paper or a shopper for the competition, something like that,” Schwartz said.

The Times is the type of free distribution paper to which Schwartz was referring, but the competition has never fazed Hendricks and her business partner and husband, Keith Davis. They provide their 20- or more page publication for free all over Tombstone for tourists and visitors, though they do also sell print and e-mail subscriptions.

“We just cover history and we want the people that visit our town to be able to take away something free that represents what they came here for-which is history,” Hendricks said.

The local edition of The Tombstone Epitaph (the one you’re reading) has been published since 1975 by students at the University of Arizona School of Journalism, under an arrangement with The Tombstone Epitaph Corp., which published the National Edition.

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