Gannett Co. last week told subscribers to more than a dozen weekly print newspapers around Boston that it’s closing their print editions and moving local news online. It pitched the move as necessary for the continued sustainable delivery of community news.
But the move was condemned by newspaper-industry observers and local media alike as likely to create broad news deserts in eastern Massachusetts.
“The closings were announced with the boilerplate language claiming that Gannett is committed to a bright digital future in which local news will [be] covered better than ever, children will play and every puppy will find a home,” wrote the Northeastern University Professor Dan Kennedy on his blog, Media Nation. “I have no problem with moving to digital in order to save costs -- and invest in local journalism. But Gannett is cutting print and journalism simultaneously.”
“Local newspapers aren’t dying. They’re dead,” wrote Greg Reibman, the president of the Charles River Regional Chamber.
Specifically, according to Kennedy, Reibman and other sources, Gannett will shut 19 print newspapers and merge four others. The move was disclosed in a series of separate announcements in each of the affected newspapers.
Kennedy also reported that Gannett is shifting reporters to regional beats covering trending issues, and away from the traditional forte of local news: City Hall, local politics, high school sports, the police beat, budgets and more. He argues that the journalism of these weekly newspapers is already poorly delivered, and this will just make coverage worse. In other words, Gannett isn’t just shifting to a digital footprint, it’s watering down already sparse reporting, Kennedy said.
To me, as a former daily newspaper reporter, it sounds like the same shortsighted and self-destructive formula that’s decimated the newspaper industry for decades. Subscription and advertising revenue is declining, so journalists have to go. As the quality of the journalism gets worse, subscriptions decline more precipitously and advertisers bail because of increasingly lousy demographics.
And the cycle repeats itself, with a flywheel’s momentum.
Let’s be honest, too: The quality of most newspaper websites is horrendous. They’re an assault on readers. They have invasive ads, pop-up interstitials that block content, unexpected ads with loud audio, cheap tricks like having to click on a new page to finish a story, and smutty clickbait ads on the bottom.
If these things are the future of digital local news, it’s bound to fail.