A thriving local newspaper is bought by a large chain, which shuts down its printing facilities, shipping them elsewhere, moves the newspaper out of a grand old building in the center of town, and slashes the news coverage, eliminating any pretense at investigative reporting and serving as the public watchdog:
Two years ago, the Press-Telegram quit its home of more than half a century for new digs in a high-rise overlooking the Long Beach harbor. The six-story P-T building at 6th Street and Pine Avenue is apparently destined to become condos. More than a decade earlier, the presses in the building's basement were stilled after MediaNews Group, the P-T's new owner, began printing the paper on the other side of L.A. County to cut costs. Simultaneously, the company began cutting jobs and wages, a downsizing that has continued ever since it bought the paper from Knight Ridder Inc.
Last month, the Denver-based chain announced its latest cost-cutting maneuver: It was combining the P-T with a neighboring daily, the South Bay Daily Breeze. The P-T (circulation: 88,000) will keep its news operation in Long Beach, and the Breeze (circulation: 65,000) will run everything else out of its Torrance headquarters. Between them, the two newspapers will lose 19 jobs, including the P-T's editor and publisher.
The drumbeat from corporate headquarters remains the same: Ad revenue is down, costs are up and the rise of the Internet as a news source makes MediaNews middle management as nervous as cats in the proverbial room full of rocking chairs. Never mind that MediaNews' net income rose 34% in the fourth quarter of 2007, or that the combined circulation of its 57 dailies tops 2.6 million.
Company founder, Vice Chairman and Chief Executive William Dean Singleton has left no doubt about what's important to him in what remains of U.S. daily journalism -- profit margins. In relentlessly cutting "news" from newspapers to maintain profits, he and many of his peers have helped transform an industry. Journalists like Leppard are bought out or laid off, limiting -- or even eliminating -- the newsroom opportunities for mentoring that transforms youthful ambition into thoughtful journalism. The fact that the mistakes of reporters make it into print more frequently these days, and that newspapers increasingly shy away from investigative stories, can be traced to the slash-and-shrink policies of chief executives who vanquish veterans and intimidate greenhorns, all the while adding more "failing" newspapers to their portfolios.
Who knows what the future of The Carthage Press may be, but the word is going around both Carthage and Joplin that its future is bleak and that its days as a daily are likely numbered.
What GateHouse Media is shown so far is that it could take a workable idea like Joplin Daily and destroy it through front office incompetence and neglect, and it can take a formerly successful small daily newspaper like The Carthage Press and thoroughly dismantle it in just a decade.
I suppose Mike Reed and the folks at GateHouse have to do it that way, though. That's the way the big boys play the game.