Wednesday, April 25, 2007

More about GateHouse Media

Last week's post about GateHouse Media's firing of Carthage Press General Manager and Managing Editor Ron Graber and Associate Editor Michael Davison has become a continuing source of comments, with 46 at last count.

The comments have been critical of everyone from Graber and Davison to GateHouse Media, to Rick Rogers, John Hacker, Chip Watson, and as usual, me.

I have grown used to people who comment on this blog making negative references about everything from my teaching ability (which not one of them knows anything about) to my reporting ability, to my motivation for writing this blog. One childish commenter was so upset that I deleted his post which included an obscenity, that he wrote an even more childish response.

One thing seems undeniable. Even though all of the national reports say newspapers are dying, the people who are interested in them are passionate about that interest. Count me among that group. I have loved newspapers since my dad, driving a truck for the Neosho Nurseries at the time, used to bring me copies of the Tulsa World, the Daily Oklahoman, and the Kansas City Star. We always subscribed to the Joplin Globe and the Neosho Daily News, and I used to pay 15 cents every afternoon to Alan Oxendine for a copy of the Joplin News-Herald.
Every afternoon, after school, I sat in the back of Gum Mercantile with my friends, drinking a Doctor Pepper, as we waited for the car to arrive with the Neosho Daily. Newspapers were important, they're still important, but the times have changed and so have the newspapers.

One of those who commented last week said the Press has been declining for years, and that is absolutely true, but that was not the way it was before American Publishing (later Liberty Group Publishing, later GateHouse Media) took over. When that happened, The Press had a larger circulation and a better newspaper than the Neosho Daily and it remained that way up until my last day at The Press in May 1999.

But the moves that eventually cost The Press much of its support in the community had already started while I was there. I wrote about it in the July 14, 2004, Turner Report:

A page one story in The Carthage Press tonight dealt with The Press' purchase of the building that used to house Honey's Restaurant on Central Avenue. The article saddened me.
It's not that I'm that connected with the present Press building, though I have plenty of good memories of my nearly 10 years there, the final five and a half as the managing editor. The reason behind that move is what is depressing.
The Press is currently located in a three-story building at 527 S. Main. The building is far too large for the newspaper's needs...primarily because the newspaper has been gutted by Liberty Group Publishing, the company that owns The Press, the Neosho Daily News and The Big Nickel.
About six years ago, after Liberty bought the newspaper from Thomson, the company decided it could save money by pulling out the press, selling it, and sending the paper 25 miles to Neosho to be printed. Sure, it improved the company's bottom line, and it improved the Neosho Daily's bottom line, but it cost The Press plenty. The Press was printing nearly every high school newspaper in the area at that time, as well as a few small-town weeklies. Also, the sense of ownership a town has about a newspaper is diminished when it is printed somewhere else. Those things were sacrificed for the bottom line. Also sacrificed were the jobs of the three people who ran the press, including one who had been there for nearly three decades. Chalk another one up to progress.
I didn't know until early last month that there is no longer a composing room at Carthage. That, too, is also done at Neosho now. These steps have saved the company money and improved the bottom line, but they have forced artificially early deadlines on The Press, which can no longer deal with any kind of breaking news in the morning. That doesn't appear to be a problem that bothers anyone connected with Liberty.
Whatever happened to a newspaper being in the business of providing a public service?

That public service aspect of newspapers, like the importance of the medium, may soon exist only in memory.


Anonymous said...

Excellent post Randy. Technology is killing the newspaper and corporate ownership is speeding its demise.

Anonymous said...

I'm tired of so-called journalists and those associated with the profession being so full of themselves all the time. Journalism might be a good profession, but is it really as noble a profession as everyone makes it out to be? Journalism is full of itself.

Anonymous said...

Did you watch Bill Moyers return to PBS last night, Randy?

Transcript isn't ready yet, but link below with possible link so that you can see it if you missed it.

Anonymous said...

Spoken like a true journalist who has no idea of what it takes to run a business. All you self absorbed so called journalist wouldn't have a desk to write at if technology and consolidation didn't happen. Do you think that the Press was supposed to keep printing the paper in Carthage and lose money when the circulation was going down. Randy, if you run your own finances the way you want the newspeper business to run thier finances then you might want to start looking for that apartment upstairs of Souls Harbor. Wake up people.

Anonymous said...

Hey Chip - "investing in newsroom quality will still attract more readers and justify itself" - - - "If you invest more in the newsroom, do you make more money? The answer is yes. If you lower the amount of money spent in the newsroom, then pretty soon the news product becomes so bad that you begin to lose money."

Joel Steinfeldt said...

I think some of the posters commenting about the business/financial aspects of newspapers would be interested to learn that newspapers are not being gutted because they are losing money, they are being gutted so that the companies that own them can continue to earn net profit margins of 20-30 percent in a changing media climate.

Keep in mind that Starbucks, well known for its profitability and expansion, makes an annual net profit of about 7.5 percent. It's no wonder media barons of the past referred to newspapers as "a license to print money." No other profession, other than gambling and illegal drug sales, expects to make that much money. I am also surprised to hear calls for the reduction of staff, as if fewer people doing more work would result in better journalism, fact checking, proof reading, ethical decision making, better community coverage, etc.

More factual information about profit margins, major trends, ownership, news investment, etc., may be found at the Project for Excellence in Journalism's Web site, The State of the News Media,