When I left for a brief August vacation, media watchers were lamenting the departures of industry reporters Brian Stelter from CNN and Margaret Sullivan from The Washington Post.
They will be sorely missed.
But when I returned a week later, national outlets were still producing meaty stories about the journalism crisis. Let’s hope it continues into the fall, as Congress debates whether to help.
The Post published a definitive story about Gannett’s latest round of layoffs, including cuts at local papers that had only one full-time reporter left.
The only full-time news reporter at the Daily Jeffersonian kept busy until recently. Kristi Garabrandt drove around Guernsey County, Ohio, for three years covering local council meetings and Eagle Scouts, photographing community events and writing a series on drug addiction.
The Daily Jeff, as it’s called locally, has been around since 1824. “The reality is the community paper is pretty much what holds your community together,” Garabrandt said.
Then came the layoffs.
Garabrandt was among a reported 400 employees laid off, along with 400 open positions canceled, as the nation’s largest newspaper publisher tries to cut costs and keep up with debt payments resulting from a series of mergers. The layoffs follow a 35% reduction in its workforce over the previous two years, The Post story notes.
So wheeling, dealing and newspaper consolidation made a few financiers richer and left hundreds of communities poorer.
Cambridge, Ohio, Mayor Tom Orr told The Post he saw the Daily Jeff shrink its staff, cut back printed papers and publish photos from distant communities.
“I love this town and I don’t like to see it suffer, and that’s what this is causing it to do: suffer,” he said.
I hope local elected officials like Orr let their representatives in Congress know what’s happening.
When they return from their August break, lawmakers will consider whether local news outlets should be allowed to collectively bargain fair compensation from tech giants.
The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act is one of several responses needed to save what’s left of the country’s local free press system.
NYT on WaPo: Gannett isn’t the only publisher feeling the strain.
Even The Post, owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, is “on track to lose money in 2022, after years of profitability,” according to a New York Times story.
Growth during the drama of the Trump presidency and the pandemic is tapering off and The Post’s digital revenue fell 15% in the first half of the year, the story said.
A Post spokesperson declined to comment when I asked if the story is correct, including its suggestion that executives considered trying to buy The Associated Press, The Economist or The Guardian.
That story came two days after a more upbeat piece in Vanity Fair, where executives at The Post “dish” on its partnership with “Hollywood heavyweights” to develop films and TV shows from its archive and stories.
The headline: ” ‘It’s a gold mine’: Inside The Washington Post’s big Hollywood deal.”
A path forward: For the other 99.9% of America’s newspapers, which provide most local reporting but don’t have gold mines, a multipronged approach is required to reverse their decline, Penelope Muse Abernathy writes in the latest chapter of The State of Local News 2022.
“There is no single solution,” writes the visiting professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School. “Reversing the loss of local news requires developing different journalistic and business strategies to address the disparities between the resources available in rural and urban areas, as well as in longstanding news deserts.”
Abernathy calls for several responses:
- Identifying areas in each state without local news or in danger of losing it.
- Designing state and national policies to address the disparity and availability of local news in these communities.
- Increasing and redirecting venture and philanthropic funding toward news organizations working to deliver comprehensive local news in news deserts.
- Rethinking journalistic practices to compensate for the dramatic loss of almost 60% of newspaper journalists in recent years.
This is excerpted from the free, weekly Voices for a Free Press newsletter. Sign up to receive it at the Save the Free Press website.