Media mega-merger puts docu-mental ahead of curve

Together, we are re-inventing news for the better

vol. 1 issue 18

Greetings,

Yesterday came the announcement that Gannett, publisher of USA Today as well as hundreds of local papers — including the Courier-Post in Cherry Hill, New Jersey where I had my first column — will merge with local and regional media company GateHouse Media, to create the nation’s largest newspaper chain. The Department of Justice is not expected to block the sale.

According to the Washington Post:

The $1.4 billion purchase of McLean-based Gannett by GateHouse Media, based in Pittsford, N.Y., will create a conglomerate that will own more than 250 daily newspapers and hundreds of weekly and community papers. The new company will retain the Gannett name and will have publications in 47 states, reaching more than 145 million unique visitors each month.

In this extraordinarily leveraged deal, GateHouse is backed by Apollo Global Management. The private equity fund also owns CareerBuilder.com, and as of this summer, is also the owner of the photo processing sites Shutterfly and Snapfish where so many of us store our images in the cloud.

Local newsrooms, millions of images, classified ads (which is where job listings used to appear in the analogue days) — aside from my being disturbed by the fact that these components sound to me like the elements of an organization intent on challenging Facebook by data mining us and then selling us back to ourselves as “news”, there is the fact the news is becoming increasingly centralized.

Also from the Washington Post:

…the efficiencies wrought by the merger may also result in publications that rely less on local reporters and more on USA Today-type stories produced or edited remotely and published in dozens of the company’s publications. Journalists across the country fretted over whether the deal would mean a wave of layoffs…

Andrew Pantazi, a reporter for the Florida Times-Union and president of the newspaper’s guild, said journalists in his newsroom were anxious about any cuts, particularly the elimination of editor roles. Pantazi said some newsrooms have lost editors because they were reorganized into hubs.

“We’re afraid of that big number: $300 million,” Pantazi said. “We’re afraid of what happens when you have fewer journalists working in the state of Florida.”

Regular readers know by now that one of the founding tenets of docu-mental is that too big is bad, regardless of whether it is a government or a corporate enterprise. It’s just too easy to avoid being responsible to the people who are supposedly being served when you can hide behind the bureaucracy that has stripped you of your authority.

To say nothing of the similarities of this to state run media in autocratic nations like China and Russia, I agree with this source in the WashPo article. She voices my fear that it will be stockholders and not local news consumers who will be in the ascendant:

Jane Hall, a professor of journalism and media studies at American University, said she worried about the viability of local newspapers whose parent companies respond to stockholders’ wishes, even at the risk letting competitive journalism slip by the wayside.

Plus, there is the inevitable slide in quality and accountability that comes with “too big”. Although it is true that the readers in the markets where these papers will still operate will appreciate having some kind of reporting, as we have seen time and again with large entities, the autonomy of people within the organization and the quality of the product they can offer will be diminished; corruption and apathy are difficult to contain. That is precisely what happened with Wells Fargo, for example.

By now, I hope that you have noticed and appreciate that docu-mental does not take an us versus them stance on current events. I don’t claim anyone has the moral high ground, even if I try to detect and uncover deceit and hypocrisy. Rather than focus on the latest outrage, I observe patterns.

The spirit and mission of docu-mental has been authentically mine since the first issue. I am here because I had a vision that if I could demonstrate how five particular states of mind have been used to manipulate us, we would see how our individual power has been eroded, including by corporate media, but how having an awareness of this phenomenon would also help restore our power.

I did not let myself get cut out of the either of the two news organizations where I last worked; I left. I researched the best way to become my own publisher, I honed my voice, and I continue to work on a shoestring to shape and refine this unique service.

Meanwhile, both media companies where I worked in the past five years have been bought, also with private equity money, all of it foreign. Foreign holding companies especially do not have local quality editorial and customer service as their primary goal; they are strictly seeking to make money, usually through margin squeezing. And, after the cuts, demoralization is usually insurmountable, and quality and customer service suffer.

I am accountable to my readers, but by the same token, you do not need to stick with me if you don’t like what I offer. That way my editorial independence is assured, and you are richly rewarded if you like what I am doing: you get the pleasure of knowing you made this possible, and you get the benefit of a service unlike any other that is always focused on customer service.

For more about what we’ve accomplished to date, and what docu-mental is all about, have a look at the updated “about” page.

I am excited by the opportunity to serve in this time of momentous change.

Thank you,

Whitney
Washington, DC