Peter Wagner: America needs locally-owned papers

By Peter Wagner, N’West Iowa Review

The once powerful Gannett media company — publishers of the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader, Des Moines Register, USA Today and 106 other mostly daily newspapers — has announced it will merge with GateHouse Media. GateHouse is reported to own 156 dailies across America.

Of course, it isn’t really a merger, Gannett is being assumed by GateHouse. Both companies have seen steady grown through acquisitions during recent years, but neither is doing well financially. By combining into one company, the new organization should see huge savings in operational costs and possible increases in advertising revenue. GateHouse, traditionally, operates with less staff than Gannett and is known for cutting staff whenever it buys an additional publication.

Gannett moved mostly away from a focus on the printed newspaper a year and a half ago, putting emphasis on producing its digital products. Gannett and GateHouse, which is owned by New Media Investment Group, are believers in consolidated management and minimum local operating expenses.

With the new firm’s emphasis on an information network dedicated to fewer locally printed pages and less publication days, the plan is to expand the company’s overall digital presence. The hope is to reduce costs through centralized accounting, production and editorial centers and increase national advertising revenue through expanded multicity readership. But the digit content will most likely be built around general interest national news, sports and features — think CNN and USA Today — and reduced coverage of hometown news important to local voters and taxpayers.

The rumor is the new firm probably will shed itself of many of their small, less-profitable, weekly publications. That might be good news for those interested in investing in and upholding the local hometown newspaper. There is a need for locally managed community newspapers. But operating a small, local weekly paper has become financially difficult. Many local communities no longer have a retail base large enough to support a local paper.

The national Democratic Party appears to be responding to this cultural change in a way that could be dangerous to the future of local and national media.

In a recent online article, David Uberti reported one of the Democratic Party’s largest Super PACs, Priorities USA, is reported to be underwriting a $100 million effort to boot President Donald Trump from office. The PAC hopes to do it with a flood of one-sided digital information messages in key swing states that have lost numerous local newspapers.

Four “news” outlets staffed by Democratic operatives will publish state-specific information across social media in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida and Wisconsin. They also will boost content to independent sources. The message will be Trump’s economy isn’t working for them.

“This should be covered by local news(papers), but local news is dying,” said Priorities USA communication director Josh Schwerin.

Between 2004 and 2018, an average of 130 newspapers closed each year across the country, according to Penelope Muse Abernathy, a University of North Carolina professor who studies “news deserts.”

That number increased to about 200 last year, with affected areas tending to be “much poorer than average, less educated and much older,” she said.

But news generated and reported by any source with an agenda is not a good thing for our nation or our individual rights and freedom. It is important that local community papers survive if we are going to keep balance and consensus in our communities and across our nation.

Let us hope those who still believe in the printed word, easy to post on the refrigerator and paste in a scrapbook, and capable of challenging wrong and encouraging right, will live long past the death rattle suggested by our competitors.

Want more information and motivation to help you tell your publication’s story? Experience more GET REAL straight talk from one of America’s leading newspaper and shopper publishers and sales trainers. Ask your group or Press Association to schedule one or more of Peter W Wagner’s seminars on selling, producing and growing your community paper. Contact him at pww@iowainformation.com or CELL 712-348-3550. Or contact Peter direct for proven sales training for your staff.

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