Sunday, March 23, 2008

The death of The Carthage Press?

The strongest indictment of the GateHouse Media way of conducting business has to be what has become of The Carthage Press.

Unless something happens quickly, the staff, for a newspaper that publishes six days a week, will be down to one editor that doesn't write much, one general news reporter, and a sports reporter.

I have already written about the newspaper's elimination of an editorial page (running it only two or three times a week). Though I am a firm believer in a strong, locally-oriented editorial page, I might be able to overlook its absence if local news was running in its place. That, however, is not the case.

Saturday's Press featured a page one written by John Hacker, an event that most likely will happen more and more over the next few weeks and months...if Hacker decides to stay around.

Hacker's knack for covering multiple stories on a daily basis has given The Press the appearance of covering more than it is actually covering. While Hacker has given The Press coverage of statewide issues affecting Carthage and Jasper County, and has added to the newspaper's coverage of Missouri Southern State University, the simple fact is many of the beats that have long been staples of Press coverage have simply vanished.

Now local coverage is considered to be beefed up with the idea of running a "Smile of the Day" on page one. I don't know who has to go out and take those pictures, but it is a waste of time and valuable space.

The Carthage Press has been the ugly stepchild for the company back to the days when American Publishing bought the newspaper from Thomson. (The smaller newspapers in American later became Liberty Group Publishing, and later GateHouse Media.) At that time, the newspaper was making a nice profit off its printing business, had a circulation of more than 5,000, had a five-member news staff and was consistently ranked among the top newspapers in the state in the Missouri Press Association's annual Better Newspaper Contest.

We were able to keep up the news product, even as our printing press was sold for scrap metal and we had to begin shipping our the paper to Neosho to be printed each day. That necessitated deadlines two hours earlier than before so we would not get in the way of the Daily's publication and kept us from getting some late-breaking news stories, but we managed to hold our own.

We continued to do so for the three years or so I worked for American/Liberty and then for a few years after my departure under Ron Graber and Rick Rogers.

In fact, during my last year at the newspaper, The Press, with a staff of John Hacker, Rick Rogers, Jo Ellis, and Ron Graber, took third place in the MPA's Gold Cup competition, losing only to the Kansas City Star and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, with wins in investigative reporting, public service, feature writing, sports coverage, and coverage of young people.

Now, unless John Hacker has the time to do it, there is no investigative reporting, no time for the type of community service projects we did on a regular basis back then, and coverage of young people is primarily limited to the sports page and whatever people supply to the newspaper.

Hopefully, this is just one of those cycles that all newspapers go through, but since the annual report issued by GateHouse Media last week showed the company is still $1.2 billion in debt, I doubt if we are going to see a return to five-member staffs anytime soon. Hopefully, it can be increased to four.

As it stands now, if John Hacker ever decides to move on, and at some point I would imagine he will, there will be no news left in The Press for a community that deserves much better.

13 comments:

Major Dale said...

The word on the street is that GateHouse is going to convert the Carthage Press to a twice or thrice weekly publication. There's really no need for it to continue to be a daily, and this move would save some money.

Anonymous said...

Hey Randy. I didn't know if you were aware that this is 2008...not the glory days of you working at the Carthage Press. It's funny how you continue to shout the woes of the newspaper industry, but the exact same thing is happening within your own job and school district. Do the teachers there forgo using computers and new technology because it was better to do it the old way...of course not. Face the facts...Carthage is dying..the town and the newspaper. If Leggett or Schreiber ever pulled out then it wold become another Pierce City. I can definitely see why you didn't finish your carreer in the newspaper business...it has passed you by while you are still living in the days of the Lamar Democrat and Carthage Press of old.

Randy said...

The people who operate school systems are intelligent enough to realize that teachers, administrators, and support staff are vital components in a strong school system. The newspaper companies cut to the bone and eliminate editors and reporters, while they continue to operate a pyramid scheme, buying more and more newspapers, then cutting them to the bone and eliminating all value from them and then they wonder why circulation is falling and advertising lineage is down. Then, instead of putting more money into the product and increasing its value, they create niche publications and one special advertising supplement or promotion after another. At first, those made up some of the money, but with valuable manpower going toward these sideproducts and not into the main product, news, the newspapers have less and less value to the advertisers.

Newspapers can still work, though I will agree with you, not as they did in my day. I will also agree with you that my day has come and gone as someone who could work on one of these "newspapers" of today. When it is the Chip Watsons of the world who make the decisions on how news should be covered, then we might as well order the flowers and pick out the casket.

My specialty was putting out a daily newspaper that covered the community and backing my reporters so they had the tools to do the job. We rewarded the Carthage community with a strong newspaper for several years.

And when we had to cut from eight to five staff members when I became managing editor in 1993, the publisher, Jim Farley, made sure that I had a solid group of reporters working with me- Amy Lamb, Ron Graber, Randee Kaiser, and Jack Harshaw. Good peopled worked at The Press in those days for far less than they could receive elsewhere but we did emphasize the news and we chased stories that other small town newspapers did not go after. At the same time, we never forgot that Carthage was a small town and we made sure that the schools, city government, county government, churches and culture were covered. We ran investigative pieces on a regular basis and we had an editorial page that featured locally written editorials, columns and two full pages of letters to the editor each week.

That formula will still work, but you are right, it has to be done with the new machinery, the internet, video, audio, much, much more, than newspapers used to be. So how have newspapers adjusted to this wealth of technological marvels- by eliminating editors, reporters, photographers- the very people who could make this new technology hum and provide readers with the information many are now seeking elsewhere.

So feel free to take all of the cheap shots at me that you want. You will find most of the people who work as reporters and editors (and who are still toiling in the trenches for our beleaguered local newspapers) agree with me. Newspapers are headed in the wrong direction, victims of a pyramid scheme and the hunger of voracious stockholders who refuse to settle for a 15 percent profit when they can cut reporters and editors and raise those profits another five or 10 percent.

A strong news product can still succeed in this area. I hope someone will try it someday.

Wes Franklin said...

I tip my hat to you, Randy... and mean it when I very enthusiastically say "THANK-YOU" with a standing ovation...
Anyone who knows me very well is probably quite aware of how I stand on this matter. And you have nailed it squarely.

Wes Franklin said...

Randy-
I was responding to your comment, by the way, not the blog entry...

Anonymous said...

Who cares about the Carthage Press??

Anonymous said...

shut up Dennis....

Press Employee said...

Well said Randy! I could not agree with you more, especially on the Chip Watson part! Ever since I have been a part of GateHouse (8 years now) I have seen it (Carthage Press, JoplinDaily.com, Neosho Daily News, Greenfield Vedette) being picked apart by the idiots that get paid the six figures at corporate. We don't even have control over our own websites anymore......pathetic! Word on the street is that the Carthage Press is going down to a weekly or possibly even being CLOSED DOWN.....for good!!

Anonymous said...

Ummmm, aren't newspapers a business? And don't businesses operate to make a profit? Why should the newspaper industry not act like any other and do what they can to make the best profit? You act as if publishers and owners should forgo profits for the calling of some higher purpose. I work because I want to make money, my guess is that's the same for everyone -- even newspaper owners.

Anonymous said...

Inside information and buzz around certain offices suggests Carthage will be looking for a new editor soon. And with the public relations hits GateHouse has taken in this area over the past few years, the local powers that be are rumored to have discussed luring Randy back to Carthage. What would it take, Randy? As a Carthage resident and lover of quality journalism I know I'm not the only one who would love to see your triumphant return to the editor's desk.

There He Goes Again! said...

For Randy Turner to criticize the Carthage Press is like the pot calling the kettle black. During Turner's tenure as editor-and-chief of the newspaper, he blatantly censored anyone who dared disagree with his own stilted point-of-view. The only person Turner would publish was Lester Terry an old man whose fear that gays, abortionists, and Communists were taking over the United States outweighed his better judgement. If it had not been for the Carthage R-9 School District, Turner would have had no front-page news at all. AS EDITOR OF THE PRESS TURNER BECAME THE KING OF MANUFACTURING "KIDDIE JOURNALISM!"

Anonymous said...

Hi Randy. This is Andre, former sports editor at The Press. I have to agree that it is sad that The Carthage Press is shrinking and that things have changed so much.

I do remember the days of winning many awards and doing great journalism. I think changing with the times is the key to survival.

Advertising energy should be driven toward online products. Fifteen-second advertisements should be attached to solid video presentations and the paper should be more interactive.

Citizen journalism and community conversation are huge now. It seems that community buy-in drives online traffic and subscriptions now. Trends are showing that the more page views a site accumulates, the more ad dollars businesses spend online.

It's a formula that will be tough to figure out for small newspapers. But I believe the key is writing for online, updating for print and doing good mutlimedia journalism. Some small papers are doing it well.

I hope things turn around for The Press. I'm sure we'll find out soon enough.

Randy said...

It is great to hear from you, Andre. Where are you at now? One of the few regrets I have about my days in journalism is that I didn't get a chance to work with you at The Press. You did a heck of a job with the sports section. As for today's Carthage Press, I keep hoping this recent downslide will be shortlived and that it is just a cyclical thing. You make some excellent points about the future of journalism and you are right- many papers are doing it right. Hopefully, at some point in the near future, The Carthage Press will be among those papers.