With Planned Merger Of Media Giants, Bigger May Not Be Better

November 15, 2019

New Media Investment Group, recognized in news circles as GateHouse Media, is expected to close soon on its acquisition of Gannett Co., which owns that ubiquitous hotel staple USA Today, according to reports.

 

Shareholders of both companies approved the transaction in separate meetings November 14.

 

(Editor’s Note: The merger finalized Nov. 19, creating the largest U.S. media company by print circulation.)

 

If past is precedent, especially among recent mergers in the constricting print media market, which continues to reel, the transaction may be less about good journalism and more about better bottom lines.

 

We’ve written previously on this blog, most recently in May, about how the parties involved in these mergers often squeeze out as much profit as they can by shedding staff and sharing content, putting local coverage at risk.

 

That makes the results of this merger something to watch, especially in Pennsylvania, where both organizations have a strong foothold.

 

Gannett owns four daily newspapers in Pennsylvania, including the Chambersburg Public Opinion, Hanover Evening Sun, Lebanon Daily News and York Daily Record. GateHouse Media’s operation is three times as large, with 12 daily, weekly and trade publications, including the Beaver County Times, Bucks County Courier Times, Erie Times New, Lehigh Valley Business, Pocono Record and more.

 

Proponents of the merger like to talk about the “efficiencies of consolidation” and “synergies” that can be brought to bear for the benefit of the consumer (and shareholders, of course). The former print reporter in me remains skeptical.

 

As much as good journalism is akin to a public service, media is a business. Changes need to be made to survive and thrive. And there have been some significant changes that have advanced the delivery of news.

 

Newspapers have adapted to become multi-media platforms, although monetizing digital ads over print remains a challenge. There has been an explosion of shared coverage of the state Capitol, with several news organizations coordinating investigative journalism, a trend we highlighted in this February blog post. Nonprofits have stepped up to underwrite media ventures.

 

The news is always about what’s fresh, and the news business is something that continues to evolve. What happens next is anyone’s guess. But we all have a shared interest in making sure someone is around to report what happens.

 

Kurt Knaus is Managing Director of Ceisler Media's Harrisburg office. 

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