WARRENTON, Va. — The Fauquier Times-Democrat, a newspaper outside of Washington, D.C., that traces its roots back nearly 200 years, announced Wednesday it is changing its name due to the increasingly divisive political landscape.
In an editorial published Wednesday, the newspaper said it would become known as the Fauquier Times. The editorial said having the word “Democrat” in its name in such partisan political times “is no longer a very astute business decision.”
Executive Editor Bill Walsh, who writes the editorials at the 14,000-circulation paper, told The Associated Press the decision was made to reach new people moving into the community who associated the newspaper with the political party. It has no such political alignment, he said, pointing to the paper’s endorsement of Republican John McCain for president in 2008 — the last presidential endorsement it made.
Walsh said the idea came from the paper’s circulation department, which was increasingly rebuffed because of the political assumption.
“Perceptions are hard to fight sometimes,” he said. “Looking at trying to make a living doing this, you don’t want to chase people away from reading your product when the reason they’re not reading the product is not really a reason at all.”
Fauquier County in Virginia’s horse country — about 45 minutes from the nation’s capital — is far from Democratic.
While some neighboring exurban communities such as Prince William and Loudoun have swung Democratic in recent elections, Fauquier stayed steadfastly Republican. The GOP has easily carried Fauquier in each of the past four gubernatorial and presidential elections, averaging at least 60 percent of the vote. The high water mark for Democrats during that span was 43 percent shared by Tim Kaine in winning the 2005 governor’s race and President Barack Obama in winning his first term in 2008.
A growing tea party in the county and the creation of competing online news outlet FauquierNow.com in 2011 also likely played a role, said Jeff South, an associate professor and director of undergraduate studies for Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Mass Communications.
While many newspapers in the U.S. have the word “Democrat” or “Republican” in the title, South said he hasn’t seen similar moves to drop the potentially offensive names.
The change reflects not only the political climate, but also the suspicion many have of mainstream media, South said. That has developed since he worked in newspapers 10 to 20 years ago, he said, “when most readers gave newspapers the benefit of the doubt.”
“It’s just emblematic of how polarized we’ve become as a society,” South said. “So many people seem to jump to the conclusion that news organizations have a hidden agenda, that they are biased from the get-go.”
Walsh said the paper has been tossing around the idea of a name change for a couple years, and that it aired the suggestion with two focus groups about two weeks ago. The overall feeling was that the effect would be modest.
“I would say the majority of the people here, when they talk about the paper, they talk about ‘the Democrat,’ they don’t talk about ‘the Times-Democrat.’ We’re still going to hear that for years to come,” he said.
As of midmorning Wednesday, he said the paper hadn’t received any calls about the name change.
The Fauquier newspaper traces its roots back nearly 200 years to the Palladium of Liberty, which began publishing in 1817. In 1905, the newspaper became the Fauquier Democrat. In 1989, it changed its name to the Fauquier Times-Democrat to more closely identify with owner Times Community News.
The newspaper is published twice a week, on Wednesdays and Fridays.
“The news coverage is not changing,” Walsh said. “The editorial pages — I write editorials and I’m fairly liberal — that’s not going to change. I’m going to still have the same opinion on the issues of the day facing our readers. We hope to continue to stir a pretty lively debate.”
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