How America's largest newspaper company is leaving behind news deserts
The country's largest newspaper company, Gannett, is once again forecasting it will sell off more of its daily newspapers. It's prompting fears of news deserts and a weakened democracy.
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Local newsrooms haven't survived the cuts in the modern shift to digital media. Now, the country's largest newspaper company is feeling the squeeze again.
Who is it? Gannett publishes newspapers like USA Today, as well as many local weekly papers. Despite managing many local outlets, it has been cutting down for years.
What's the big deal? You might not need us to tell you this, but any reduction in a free press is cause for concern.
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What are people saying? Here's some more insight from Benton, who spoke with NPR about the future of Gannett and print media.
On why Gannett continues to slash staff and paper numbers:
The Gannett that we have now is the result of the merger of two very large companies. The idea was [that] an individual newspaper might struggle on its own, but if you buy enough of them, you can extract as much of the cost of producing the newspaper from the local community as possible. You cut down on print days. You have the page layout and editing done elsewhere. The thought was you could achieve these economies of scale and make a profitable business. The problem is, as part of the merger, Gannett took on a lot of debt, and they have to pay off that debt. So they need revenue. And the way that they have been doing that is by cutting costs to the bone. That means cutting staff and cutting the quality of their newspapers.
On how smaller communities are getting left behind:
Gannett CEO Mike Reed has said that he sees in the future, the company will be focusing on its larger newspapers in communities like Phoenix and Indianapolis. But Gannett owns a lot of very small newspapers, a lot of weekly newspapers, a lot of very small daily newspapers. Those larger weeklies and smaller dailies are in a really tough position economically. It's very difficult to manage the cost while emphasizing digital subscriptions and getting enough of them to make things work out. There are also communities where there often isn't as much of an alternative in terms of a local television station or a local digital news outlet that's covering the area.
On what less local press might look like:
I see a lot more uncovered city council meetings. I see a lot more corruption that doesn't get noticed. I see a lot more uninformed voters, more people who take their cues for how they view their government from national media and the politicized world there as opposed to their local government. There certainly are bright spots. There are green shoots going up, but the challenge is just very difficult.
Gannett's chief communications officer, Lark-Marie Antón, in a statement published in Axios:
Our local markets are critical to Gannett's strategy. We plan to invest in better serving our readers with content initiatives that expand our audience and drive growth to ensure the sustainability of local news.
So, what now?
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