Changes To Local Newspapers Put Community News At Risk
The daily newspaper is still a work of art, when you consider all that goes into its layout, design and story placement. And like some works of art, its value is underappreciated by its audience more so than its masters.
A case in point: The scheduled auction of the family-owned Reading Eagle Company’s assets has been canceled after it received a qualified bid before the Friday deadline. The paper filed for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11 on March 20, saying its financial situation had become untenable.
That sounds like good news. But the qualifying bid came from MediaNews Group, which also operates under the name Digital First Media. MediaNews Group is majority owned by the New York-based hedge fund Alden Global Capital.
In other words, this isn’t a family-run operation.
MediaNews Group has a reputation of squeezing out as much profit as it can by shedding staff and then sharing content across the various platforms it owns, making papers look full of news.
A recent story highlights the trend toward “ghost newspapers” that have less local original content and devote fewer resources to dive deeper into stories.
What this does is effectively turn local reporters into the starving artists who struggle each day to push out a daily or community newspaper, fueled by nothing more than a commitment to their craft.
For the owners, it’s more about the bottom line.
MediaNews Group owns 97 publications across the country, including 14 publications in Pennsylvania, many in southeastern part of the state, where, according to a 2018 report out of Harvard's Nieman Lab, Alden’s made $18 million in profit in fiscal year 2017.
That money could keep reporters on the job, fund more investigative journalism and tell the community stories that readers want to hear. Instead, it goes to shareholders.
Canceling subscriptions doesn’t help. Reading for free online doesn’t support quality journalism. It only moves us closer to the day when we all realize that we never really knew what we had until it’s gone.
Kurt Knaus is Managing Director of Ceisler Media's Harrisburg office.