Saving What’s Left of the Janesville Gazette

The nearby Janesville Gazette is ending its Saturday and Sunday print editions. See The Gazette to cease Saturday, Sunday print editions. The Saturday edition should have been canceled years ago; ending a Sunday edition, however, is a sign of a grave illness.  For any paper, even one treading water, the Sunday edition should be a mainstay. I’m from a newspaper-loving family, and grew up in an era when serious readers expected – and received – much from newspapers.  My interest in newspapers is as reader (bloggers are not reporters, and I would never trade this role for theirs).  Below, I’ll highlight the gravity of the Gazette‘s illness, and offer a few suggestions for how the paper can survive (and thrive).

The Illness.

In the story about the cancellation of weekend editions, one reads that “Gazette circulation surveys show at least 70% of the paper’s readers receive The Gazette’s content through online and multimedia channels.”  Online and multimedia channels are much broader than paid digital subscribers – this is likely  an admission that many readers don’t read the Gazette‘s paid online content as much as skim abbreviated offerings on Facebook.

Worse, Mary Jo Villa, the Gazette publisher and APG regional president, insists that by canceling the weekend editions (including Sunday) “[w]e are not eliminating any content,” Villa said. “Most of the Sunday content will be in Friday’s edition, which will become a weekend edition.” If the Sunday content can be moved to Friday, then it was untimely. The Sunday edition by her view wasn’t a vehicle for urgent stories, but for evergreen, read-anytime-it-doesn’t-matter content and advertising inserts.

The Treatment. 

Prepare for only one print edition.  Five remaining print editions are probably four days too many.  Pick one day, and cancel the other four.

End storytelling – it’s an inverted pyramid or nothing.  Even before the pandemic, these were stagnant years for our part of the state. Those conditions demand stories that represent the seriousness of our condition.  Stories that begin with five to ten anecdotal paragraphs about someone who had a bad experience before offering any facts or figures are a waste of readers’ time.  Start with a concise summary of the problem, with relevant metrics to support one’s reporting.  Almost everyone at the Gazette now writes in a storytelling style; if they can’t be retrained they need to be dismissed. Hard times demand hard-hitting stories.

On editorials and opinion, abandon boosterism.  Accentuating the positive despite real conditions (‘I know you’re starving but your lipstick looks smashing!‘) is a mendacious and futile perspective.  Carrying water for corporate welfare schemes, the WEDC, Forward Janesville, and Rock County 5.0 didn’t help this paper – it’s brought the paper to the brink.

Find a solid managing editor.  Get rid of the managing editor who allowed the paper to descend into vapid storytelling and servile boosterism.

Sell the building – if anyone will buy it.  One imagines the Gazette (APG) owns its building.  Sell it, assuming there’s someone in Janesville looking to buy a white elephant.  Buy something small with the proceeds from the sale of the old building.  Reporters, editors, etc., don’t need a big building – a laptop and mobile phone are more than enough for most people.

In the place of boosterism, speak truth to government and institutional power.  This is what a paper should offer, and what the Gazette most certainly hasn’t offered.

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2 years ago

This is a tough but fair assessment.It’s a kind of tough love approach. There’s a myth that newspapers “speak truth to government and institutional power” all the time. The reality is more like what you’re describing lots of these old local papers do about “carrying water for corporate welfare schemes, the WEDC, Forward Janesville, and Rock County 5.0.” There are versions of that across the country. It’s not just Janesville although Janesville had/has a bad case of it.

Not The Paper Boy
2 years ago

I am absolutely not the paper boy now. 🙁