The New York Times has published a feature on local journalists who’ve lost their jobs during the past year. It’s heart-breaking. But I want to offer a little more context than you’ll get from the Times, because the newspapers that eliminated their jobs weren’t destroyed by meteors from outer space.
No deep research here — just a few off-the-top-of-my-head observations. Please give the Times story a read, then come back.
• In March 2016 I visited OC Weekly and interviewed Gustavo Arellano, who was then the editor. “This is our 20th anniversary,” he told me. “We’ve made money for 19 of those years. Last year we lost money for the first time, ever.” The problems with OC Weekly were fixable. But it got sold to another owner, who started lopping off staff. Arellano quit in protest and is now at the Los Angeles Times. And now OC Weekly, having been gutted, has been shut down.
• In New Orleans, Advance spent years mismanaging The Times-Picayne. An independent newspaper, The Advocate of Baton Rouge, moved in and started competing. Eventually, The Times-Picayune fell into the hands of its locally owned rival.
• I’m convinced there’s a deeper story to be told about The Vindicator in Youngstown, Ohio. The former owners also owned a TV station — banned under cross-ownership prohibitions, but grandfathered in. We’re always told that if cross-ownership were allowed, newspapers could be saved. But instead of innovating and finding ways to combine the newsrooms of the TV station and the newspaper, The Vindicator’s owners just shut it down and focused on what was making money. Again, I’d love to see more reporting on this.
• The papers in Corpus Christi, Texas, and Lakeland, Florida, are owned by Gannett. Need I say more?
As I have said many times before, local news isn’t dying. It’s being murdered. I’d love to see some of these great local journalists start their own newspapers or websites, either for-profit or nonprofit. Democracy needs them.