Another Local Paper Changes Hands

Local newspapers are changing ownership quickly now.  Knox gave up publishing the Jefferson County Daily Union in December, and now Bliss will sell the Janesville Gazette (and radio stations) this June.

These changes of ownership are not coming because the papers are strong: these sales are halfway to fire sales.

The new, common ownership (APG) will drain any money they can from the acquisitions, and then sell whatever’s left for scrap within a few years.

These local papers are in irreversible decline in significant measure because they advanced – and refused to abandon – an ideology of local boosterism & babbittry.  They’ve made the defense of local officials a crackpot ideology.

One can say that Dean Baquet of the New York Times‘s was half right when he predicted that

the greatest crisis in American journalism is the death of local news . . . I don’t know what the answer is. Their economic model is gone. I think most local newspapers in America are going to die in the next five years, except for the ones that have been bought by a local billionaire.

Baquet is right that most local papers are doomed: they (and online websites that follow their style) have embraced a declining demographic’s desperation and delusion.

Did someone say dinner?

He’s wrong, however, to think that a billionaire, local or otherwise, will save these papers. The new publisher, APG, is a terrible place to work where employees see no respect for journalism, few opportunities, onerous requirements, and have low morale. There will simply be less money for the same struggling, poorly-mentored or middling employees.

Update, Tuesday afternoon: digital versions of dull publications won’t save these newspapers: there won’t be enough advertisers or subscribers for electronic editions if the quality of reporting stays the same (and it almost surely will).

Indeed, if digital alone made a difference, these incurious-to-the-point-of-ignorant efforts wouldn’t have changed hands.

Tomorrow: What Can Be Done (Even Though It Probably Won’t Be)?

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4 years ago

APG does appear to have some pretty unhappy employees.

The small-town newspaper biz is rapidly devolving to covering high-school sports for half the content and Chamber of commerce press releases for the other half. It’s a tough biz and a dying market.

It will be interesting to see if APG will out-horrible the Bliss dynasty. It’s a high bar…

Also of interest is what “Big Radio” does with the radio stations. “Big Radio” is yet another small chain of radio stations streaming centrally-produced cookie-cutter country and classic rock to unattended transmitters. Will they do the same to the Bliss stations? Their station in Monroe (WEKZ) appears to be the place where they actually do some quasi-innovative local content, so perhaps there is hope…