America’s two largest newspaper chains, Gannett and GateHouse Media, have announced they will merge to form a giant conglomerate of 250 newspapers in 47 states. Is this the way to save the newspaper industry?
Since 2004, about 1,800 newspapers have gone out of business, and the industry has shed nearly half its workers. The shift of advertising revenue to digital platforms has shattered the business model that once sustained a robust and varied print media that served even the tiniest towns. Now, community journalism is vanishing, with potentially dire consequences for democracy. With so many fewer watchdogs to keep track of local government and local issues, the citizens of many cities and towns will be left in the dark and vulnerable to the whims of unchecked officials and special interests.
Will the Gannett deal help? It may keep some newspapers alive longer, but inevitable budget cuts, staff reductions and dilution of local content may make those newspapers even less attractive to readers. Rather than finding novel, dynamic new ways to support truly unique journalism for individual communities, the push to get bigger, but not better, may only slow the decline, not spark a revival of this crucially important component of American democracy.
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