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.