The big news in journalism this week is that GateHouse Media is acquiring Gannett, which owns The Livingston County Daily Press & Argus. It’s a huge deal, one that will create a behemoth of a newspaper company.
That news is sending shivers down the spines of those of us who value community journalism because we have a pretty good idea of what lies ahead.
Ten years ago, I managed a Livingston County Daily Press & Argus newsroom of about 22 people: reporters, photographers, and editors.
Then, Gannett bought HomeTown Newspapers, a chain that included the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus, and the cutting began.
Today, my educated estimate is that the once-mighty local paper’s newsroom has probably five employees left, a drop of over 75 percent.
According to a study by the University of North Carolina, the U.S. has lost almost 1,800 local newspapers since 2004, and the number of newsroom employees dropped a quarter from 2008 to 2018, according to Pew Research. Layoffs continue.
With Gannett’s penchant for streamlining operations to maximize profits, it has cut its newsroom staffing drastically, and its papers all look eerily similar. Readers get a couple of “local” stories a day, sandwiched by national and international news from USA Today, the chain’s flagship.
The “local” paper gets laid out at a regional center in Kentucky, and it’s “editor” is in Lansing.
There is no local editor to guide coverage.
There are no local editorials.
There are no local columns.
There is no voice — local or otherwise — advocating for our community.
What it is is a ghost of its former self.
GateHouse Media’s modus operandi is a lot like Gannett’s: buying companies and then cutting costs — including layoffs — and centralizing operations. You can read about one acquisition GateHouse made earlier this year by clicking here, and another round of layoffs across the country a couple months later.
Notice a pattern?
And GateHouse and Gannett are now looking to cut between $275 million and $300 million of expenses a year from their merger.
That doesn’t happen without more layoffs and consolidations.
What does this mean for the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus?
Buckle up, fans of local news, because it feels like things are going to get a whole lot ghostier.
There will likely be more centralization and shared content, a whole lot more USA Today and a whole lot less local content.
GateHouse owns these papers, which publish daily unless indicated otherwise:
• Cheboygan Daily Tribune
• Bronson Journal (a weekly)
• The Daily Reporter (Coldwater)
• The Daily Telegram (Adrian)
• The Evening News (Sault Ste. Marie)
• Hillsdale Daily News
• The Holland Sentinel
• Ionia SentinelStandard
• Jonesville Independent (a weekly)
• Mackinac Journal (Cheboygan)
• Monroe Daily News
• Sturgis Journal
• West Michigan Senior Times (a weekly in Kalamazoo)
• Petoskey News-Review
• Charlevoix Courier (a weekly)
• Gaylord Herald Times (a weekly)
Gannett owns these daily papers:
• Livingston County Daily Press & Argus
• Detroit Free Press
• Port Huron Times Herald
• Lansing State Journal
• Battle Creek Enquirer
• Michigan.com (digital)
You can also read a fine piece by Buddy Moorehouse by clicking here.