Editorial | Bad news for journalism in Peoria and the country

S.A. Shepler (c) 2019 Community Word

The corporate owner of the Journal Star has agreed to a $1.5 billion acquisition of Gannett, owner of USA Today as well as 100 dailies and over 1,000 weeklies. The merger is financed with a five-year loan at 11.5 percent, and means one mega-corporation controls the journalism reaching eight million newspaper subscribers. That makes it the largest newspaper conglomerate in the nation.

The new corporation will operate under the Gannett name, probably because GateHouse has a worse reputation than Gannett.

In announcing the acquisition, officials stated an expected $300 million in “efficiencies” are planned.
Here is what Penny Abernathy, journalism professor at the University of North Carolina, told The New York Times: Layoffs are all but guaranteed. The business model is to further consolidate operations away from newsrooms. There is no way local coverage can thrive when operations are remote.

Both Gannett and GateHouse are diverting focus away from journalism to online marketing. Just look at the pages of the Journal Star.

The merger accelerates the demise of local newspapers, a trend that’s having a devastating effect on democracy. According to Steven Waldman and Charles Sennott, the co-founders of Report for America, “The disintegration of community journalism leads to greater polarization, lower voter turnout, more pollution, less government accountability and less trust.”

Here is a link to Bernie Sanders’ OpEd in the Columbia Journalism Review about the state of journalism in this country: https://www.cjr.org/opinion/bernie-sanders-media-silicon-valley.php.

Sanders writes: Gannett’s proposed merger with Gatehouse Media, for instance, will consolidate hundreds of publications under one mega-corporation’s control and slash $300 million worth of “synergies”—which is often corporate-speak for layoffs. Matt Pearce, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, notes that “the new Gannett/Gatehouse CEO is getting $4.5 million in bonuses and stock just for walking in the door.”

And in Peoria, a newsroom that once buzzed with more than 60 journalists now is down to fewer than a dozen, and the likely prospect of even more layoffs hangs in the air.

Another, perhaps unanticipated loss that accompanies the loss of local news coverage is health. Sociologist Joan Retsinas wrote a piece “Harmful to your health: The dying newspaper.” She highlights several examples of public health issues that came to light as local journalists covering local stories helped unearth a national health crisis: opiate epidemic; lead in drinking water; measles and anti-vaxxers; insulin prices spiking; HPV vaccine and cervical cancer. With coverage by local newspapers, politicians learned of the problems and crafted public policy measures to help.

Prior to finalizing the Gannett-GateHouse merger, GateHouse is negotiating the sale of some local papers. The Helena-West Helena World in Hot Springs, Ark., reached a deal. The paper, which began publication in 1871, was slated to close but will be sold by GateHouse to local entrepreneur Chuck Davis who stated, “All communities need local news and community involvement in the news process. The Helena-West Helena World will remain a community newspaper and will concentrate heavily on local input.”

2 comments for “Editorial | Bad news for journalism in Peoria and the country

  1. Earl Valley
    September 25, 2019 at 9:36 pm

    The Helena-West Helena World is published in Helena-West Helena Arkansas not Hot Springs.

  2. September 26, 2019 at 10:24 am

    Leopards don’t change their spots. What GateHouse has done to reputable papers such as the Star Journal it will do to the high-profile stars in Gannett’s portfolio. Gannett has plenty of papers that are little better than many of GateHouse’s.

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