Journalism In Milwaukee Takes Another Hit

Gannett Co, the owner of USA Today and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (and 98 other papers) is being acquired by GateHouse Media (which if you trace the lineage is a division of Japanese company Softbank).

This is being touted as a great way to preserve for profit print journalism in America as the combined company saves money by reducing duplicative costs. Well considering how poorly that worked as Gannett built its USA Today network, excuse me for having some doubts here.

GateHouse Media owner and USA TODAY owner Gannett have agreed to merge in a deal aimed at cutting overlapping costs and enabling the combined company to pursue a digital transformation.

New Media Investment Group announced Monday that it reached a deal to acquire Gannett, which owns more than 100 other daily publications and digital marketing services such as ReachLocal.

The companies estimated they can save $275 million to $300 million in annual costs within 24 months. New Media shareholders will own 50.5% of the combined company, while Gannett shareholders will own 49.5%.

“We believe this transaction will create value for our shareholders, greater opportunities for our employees, and a stronger future for journalism,” Reed said in a statement.

Together, the two companies would operate more than 260 daily news operations – far more than any other U.S. news publisher – and boast potentially the largest online audience of any American news provider.

emphasis mine

greater opportunities for our employees = we’ll pretend to give them great buy out offers before we cut them lose.

stronger future for journalism = considering the stark atrophy exhibited by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in its post merger world…there’s no chance of that.

create value for our shareholders = BINGO go the investment bankers who hold most of the shares.

I originally thought that MJS would be helped by the Gannett organization; figuring out state and national news would be sourced from other USA Today network papers. But that leverage was used exceedingly sparingly and I think the paper did itself a big disservice by not using that model effectively.

It also appears that editors at the paper are in short supply as typos, mismatched nouns/verbs, misuse of an, and other errors continue to grow in the print version of the paper. I can’t imagine growing the number of papers and reducing costs at the same time will provide a remedy.

But digital is the certain savior, right? Well if they have a solid digital platform that might help. When I was pulling up the linked articles for this post, the web pages were balky, search slow and difficult to use, and ads kept reshaping the pages while I was reading the articles. That’s all annoying as hell! (and of course the video ads that pop up and run unbidden)

DelGrande { Chuck DelGrande, a Chicago-based managing director in the tech, media and telecommunications group of investment bank Alantra } said “the holy grail” for Gannett and GateHouse would be to get big enough to “live to fight another day,” giving them sufficient time to continue to invest in a digital transformation.

Both Gannett and GateHouse have been making progress attracting paid digital subscribers to make up for the loss of print subscribers in recent years.

Gannett’s digital-only subscriptions rose 39% year-over-year to 538,000 in the first quarter of 2019.

GateHouse’s digital-only subscriptions rose 44% to 174,000 over the same period.

“Subscription revenue is one of the biggest levers, and there is potential there. The challenge is with so many sources to get information these days, the bar for paying is higher than ever,” Magid’s Spencer said. “And the only way you’re going to substantively drive increases in those subscriptions is by delivering a level of value I can’t get anywhere else.”

I’ll be moving from a print subscriber to media only when I come up for renewal. After 35 years as a print subscriber, they’ve priced me out of that market. But I may be a short lived media subscriber if their digital presence doesn’t deliver as promised.

Last thought:

If they combine, Gannett and GateHouse must balance the need for cost cuts with the need to invest in journalism efforts, said Jim Friedlich, CEO of the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, a nonprofit that promotes local journalism innovation and owns the Philadelphia Inquirer.

emphasis mine

Their journalism efforts can certainly get worse…but I hope that they see the value in investing in it…and not milking this cash cow to death. Democracy and the First Amendment can’t take too many more hits.


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1 thought on “Journalism In Milwaukee Takes Another Hit

  1. Print media are indeed in qualitative decline. Here in the Chippewa Valley, our own Leader Telegram (already 40+ percent sports), while becoming more expensive with each renewal, and increasingly bloated with glossy insert advertising, displays all the grammatical errata, mis-spellings, homonym confusion, disjointed presentation of thought, convoluted syntax, etc., one might expect to find in the comments below a Yahoo story. Not to mention – nobody answers the phone when one tries to call for whatever reason.

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