Remember Knight-Ridder? Pulitzer? Scripps? Freedom? Donrey? Copley? Lindsay-Schwab? Liberty Group Publishing? Journal Communications? Howard Communications? Media General? Others?
Many readers of this column likely worked for one of the above-named, now-gone newspaper companies.
And now it looks like another big name group is going to disappear. Gannett recently made an offer of $815 million for the Tribune Company, including the once-mighty Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times.
How the journalism landscape has changed.
When I got out of journalism school many years ago, most of my fellow graduates and I all had pretty much the same ambitions: Start work at a small daily, then catch on with a medium-sized daily, then hope to attract the attention of some great publication like the L.A. Times, Chicago Tribune, and maybe even the Washington Post or New York Times.
The weekly news magazines – Time, U.S. News and World Report, and Newsweek – were options, too, for aspiring journalists. The network news departments had many jobs back then. Major radio stations operated news departments.
My choice, after working for three dailies, was to join America’s most important news organization, The Associated Press. Back in the 1970s and ‘80s, AP still had fierce competition from United Press International. Then I went on to buy a weekly newspaper that now is online-only.
The AP remains the most important news organization in the country, perhaps in the world, but it too has suffered grievous losses in staff and revenues as its owners – U.S. Daily Newspapers – suffered huge losses, starting with the loss of most of the lucrative classified advertising business. UPI remains in business, but today it hardly casts a shadow in the media world.
Change continues. Gannett earlier this year bought, for approximately $280 million, the Journal Media Group -- 15 dailies and 18 weeklies in nine states. Most notable of the newspapers was the Milwaukee Journal and the Knoxville (Tennessee) News Sentinel.
In late April, Gannett offered $815 for the Tribune Co., which has emerged from bankruptcy and gone through several management changes.
For journalists working at the Tribune Co.’s dailies — or aspiring to one day get a job there — the Gannett offer caused more unease. Poynter Institute quoted media analyst Ken Doctor as describing Gannett as: "Middle-brow, small towns, tight rein on management, publishers ascendant and editors not as strong, excellent financial engineers, best balance sheet in the business, still searching for its community voice." Not the legacy of the L.A. Times or Chicago Tribune.
If successful, the acquisition of Tribune Co. likely will mean more cost efficiencies, fewer managers, and likely fewer journalists. Gannett says it has identified $50 million in saving that will come through “synergies.”
Will the pages of U.S.A. Today start appearing inside the Chicago Tribune, L.A. Times, Orlando Sentinel, Baltimore Sun, Hartford Courant and other Tribune Co. dailies – as Gannett has done with its other 108 dailies? As a former regular reader of the Chicago Tribune, I would find such content startling.
Gannett apparently believes it must grow to survive, and that the revenues and profits it drives through acquisitions and the efficiencies of scale will be accretive to the bottom line. Gatehouse Media is following a similar path.
For journalists, the changing landscape is frightening. Since 2007, American daily newspapers have cut approximately 24,000 jobs. The American Society of Newspaper Editors 2015 census showed 32,900 journalists at work, compared with 57,000 in 2007.
The number of journalist working in U.S. daily newspapers has fallen every year since 2007. We can only hope that as newspaper companies seek new business models they will be able to reach a solid base that offers security and hope for the journalists who work as democracy’s watch dogs.
The University of Georgia’s James M. Cox Center for International Mass Communications has reported steady declines in enrollment at the nation’s journalism schools. Aspiring young minds have got to wonder what future career paths will be available to them. p
Marc Wilson is CEO of TownNews.com. He can be reached at