By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Tag: Uvalde

A terrible day for Gannett, to be followed by terrible days for its staff and communities

The late Gannett chairman Al Neuharth, who created USA Today, was no stranger to cost-cutting. But he’d be rolling over in his grave at what’s taking place now. Photo (cc) 2013 by George Kelly.

Gannett, the country’s largest local news chain, is in a tailspin. The publisher of some 200 daily papers reported a significant loss in the second quarter — $54 million on revenues of $749 million.

According to Rick Edmonds, who analyzes the media business for Poynter, the company is either down or missing its targets in digital and print advertising as well as print circulation. The sole bright spot: a steady rise in paid digital circulation. Extensive layoffs are on the way. Edmonds quoted a memo from Maribel Perez Wadsworth, head of the media division, in which she said: “In the coming days, we will … be making necessary but painful reductions to staffing, eliminating some open positions and roles that will impact valued colleagues.” It’s hard to see how shrinking an already diminished product is going to help.

Those of us who live in Eastern Massachusetts and environs might wonder where they are going to find any staff members to lay off. Over the past year, the chain has closed many of its community weeklies. Its dailies are still publishing, but with skeleton newsrooms.

The question with Gannett is how many of its problems are simply part of the overall local news crisis and how many are of its own making. Tim Franklin, senior associate dean and the John M. Mutz Chair in Local News at Northwestern’s Medill School, tweeted:

As it turned out, Lee did reasonably well, which Chris Krewson, executive director of Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers noted in a response to Franklin.

I would argue that though the challenges facing community journalism are very real, there are some unique factors at work with the current iteration of Gannett, which lost its way in the cradle back when GateHouse Media was born. GateHouse and Gannett merged a few years ago, but it was essentially a takeover by GateHouse, which has been pillaging its local titles for the past 15 or so years. Gannett’s schemes to overcome the mess in which it finds itself strike me as harebrained. Its plan to pursue sports betting isn’t going well, as Edmonds reports. Then there is its dream of getting into nonfungible tokens (NFTs). Seriously?

Gannett’s flagship is USA Today, which is still a solid paper. If I had to guess, I’d say they’ll leave it pretty much alone so that they can use it as a wire service to fill up their regional and local papers. I mean, even more than they’re already doing.

Sadly, Gannett’s journalists have been on a roll, with reporters at the Indianapolis Star and The Columbus Dispatch breaking the story about a pregnant 10-year-old rape victim — and then confirming it when it was questioned by right-wing propagandists and by Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler. The Austin American-Statesman obtained and published video of the police (non)response to the school shootings in Uvalde, Texas, after editing out the children’s screams. This is outstanding journalism, and soon Gannett will have fewer journalists.

Gannett’s greed and incompetence are going to mean fewer jobs for reporters and less coverage for local communities. It’s an ongoing tragedy, but it does open up possibilities for entrepreneurs who are looking to start new projects.

New on ‘Beat the Press’: The media and the mass shooting dilemma

Photo (cc) 2013 by Maryland GovPics

The new “Beat the Press” podcast is up, and this week we have a single-theme program: the mass murders in Uvalde, Texas, and what role the media play — and should play — in covering what has become a long string of such incidents.

Also on tap are our panel’s Rants & Raves. Mine is on the social media meltdown at The Washington Post, recorded after reporter David Weigel was suspended for retweeting a homophobic, sexist joke but before Felicia Sonmez was fired for continuing to criticize the Post after she’d been asked not to.

Hosted, as always, by Emily Rooney, along with Lylah Alphonse of The Boston Globe, Joanna Weiss of Experience magazine and me. You can listen here and subscribe in your podcast app.

A heart-breaking example of how local news can bind a community’s wounds

Shortly after the school shootings in Uvalde, Texas, I checked in to see what local newspapers were reporting. The San Antonio Express-News, a Hearst paper, seemed to be doing a thorough job, but its strict paywall meant that I couldn’t read anything. Then I discovered there was a paper in Uvalde — the Leader-News. But at that early stage there was no coverage of the shootings, so I moved on.

In the days since the shootings, the twice-weekly Leader-News has emerged as a symbol of a community’s suffering. An all-black front page garnered quite a bit of attention. And a sensitive, detailed story in The New Yorker by Rachel Monroe brought us into the lives of the staff members. We learn that Kimberly Rubio, the reporter whose daughter, Lexi, was among those killed, had been a receptionist at the paper and was offered a newsroom job because publisher Craig Garnett often saw her reading a book. “I said, ‘You know, if you love to read that much, you can write,’” Garnett told Monroe. “And, by gosh, she didn’t let us down.”

The New Yorker story is heart-breaking, but it’s also affirming. You’re not going to turn to the Leader-News for an investigative report on the failures of the local police. But as Garnett said, what the paper can provide is “context. A source of understanding, and hand-holding, and healing.” Finally, here is a story from the paper on the victims of the shootings. The headline: “They were smart, funny, loved.”

In Uvalde, the press reported the official account — and then kept digging

The Uvalde school massacre is shaping up as a massive police scandal. Officers failed to respond as they had been trained to do. We’re going to learn a lot more in the days and weeks to come, but for now, I want to comment on one narrow aspect — the media’s dependence on official sources in such situations. There’s been a lot of criticism on social media about the press’ reliance on police in the initial coverage. Adam Johnson put it this way:

Jay Rosen offered a more nuanced critique.

There’s no doubt that journalists rely too heavily on police sources who may or may not be telling the truth. Sources lie, especially when the truth would make them look bad. I have no reason to think that police officers are more likely to lie than anyone else. But they’re not less likely to lie, either. I’ve written about the problem of “the police giving us good stories in return for our not asking too many questions.”

But I don’t think the Uvalde shootings are an example of journalistic malfeasance. In the immediate aftermath of a terrible breaking-news situation, official sources are often the only ones available. You pass along what they have to say and you keep reporting. That’s what happened in Uvalde. Yes, we learned that the original police account was wrong, and that officials may have been flat-out lying. And it was the press from whom we learned about those falsehoods.

It’s an imperfect process. But the press did not blindly accept what they were being told. They kept digging, and that’s why the official narrative has fallen apart.

In memoriam

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