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No News Is Bad News

What happens when newspapers are killed?

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Not long ago on Twitter, some regional politicians and media types ended up discussing an all-too-familiar topic: the inability of local newspapers to cover politics with the detail and depth that was once the standard. Then, an AP article castigated GateHouse Media—the New York-based publisher that owns The Florida Times-Union, St. Augustine Record and many other Florida media properties—as one of the industry’s worst offenders, a venture-capital behemoth that buys out papers, eviscerates them of assets to create illusory profits at the expense of institutional equity, and then ...

That’s the big question: What happens next?

We’ve seen what’s happened to the Times-Union: Great talent leaves, and isn’t readily replaced. Tessa Duvall is the latest, gone to Louisville, where she will thrive and use the skills she sharpened in this market.

Many great reporters remain. And they are under-resourced, to the point that prominent pols from this area are actually asking for coverage.

Take Republican Florida Sen. Rob Bradley (Dist. 5). He helms the Senate budget committee. He noted that the T-U hadn’t reached out to him. In years past, recall, Tia Mitchell covered Tallahassee for the Times-Union. Used to be a dedicated reporter from each outlet, in fact. Chris Hand, a political veteran, can recall a time when there were two or three T-U reporters in the state capital. But the model changed. Now one reporter (John Kennedy, who’s top-shelf) covers the state capital for all of GateHouse.

The problem isn’t that the reporters don’t want to go to Tallahassee. It’s that GateHouse, in an attempt to create shareholder value, makes value to readers a secondary proposition.

Readers notice.

The other week, the Jax Daily Record ran a glass-half-full story, contending that GateHouse was doing fine making money on non-news properties. The lede was buried, at least as far as I was concerned: All that happy talk masked an ever-accelerating attrition of readers. Sunday circulation is down 21 percent year over year, well below 50,000 now for the big paper with coupons and comic strips. Perhaps they’re reading it on the Web. Wait, nope—44 percent drop YOY in page views.

The paywall can still be beat, but what’s clear is that some aren’t even bothering to try. Why? Because, after years and years of layoffs and cutbacks and compromises, brand equity has been debased in consumers’ eyes. The paper’s traditional base, the Olds, they’re dying off, cutting their budgets, losing their ability to focus on printed text, mainlining Fox News Channel like William Burroughs did heroin. They are not reliable subscribers for much longer. Younger people, meanwhile, don’t subscribe. They will follow a newspaper’s page on Facebook and then complain that the paper actually wants to charge them to read on.

In times gone by, a big local company or consortium of players could own the local paper, or keep it afloat. But even if “the community” wanted to save the whale, why would rational actors fuel the GateHouse model? That model explicitly advertises a drastically reduced product without any reduction in price, because of legacy costs and CEO bonuses and shareholder value. How do you fix that?

You’re reading this at the end of the First Election, and I’m writing it before results are final. If you’ve gotten this far into the column, odds are good that you’re politically engaged one way or another. No one would slog through what passes for my prose for any other reason.

Despite all the events and social media and hashtags and burner accounts for people on the public payroll, voter turnout tanked in 2019. A big part of why: The local daily is no longer a magnet for civic engagement. Fifty-some years ago, the Times-Union and Jacksonville Journal made the Consolidation case. Could the Times-Union drive that today? Not with GateHouse’s level of investment in it.

Television reporters are as useful as their institutional knowledge allows. Kent Justice and Jim Piggott have been in the game for a long time, and they don’t get swerved. But if you’re new to the game, new to the market, how do you know who really matters and who’s a rent-a-quote?

The fact is, we need a strong local daily paper. And market forces at all levels seem to militate against that being the case for much longer. We have plenty of food deserts now. News deserts, too. And the result of the latter is that issues such as the former won’t get covered going forward. Thus leaving people dumber, less empowered and more prone to exploitation in that classic late-stage capitalism way we’ve all come to know and love.

@aggancarski

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Changejacksonville

Good read... thanks Wednesday, March 20|Report this

SusaninFlorida

24% of registered voters turned out to vote in Jacksonville. So very sad. Is it lack of news coverage? We don't know enough so we just don't vote?

Or is it the feeling of sadness when our candidate doesn't win? Would proportional voting help? Rather than majority rule, why not elect the at-large candidates via a proportional representation method of voting? The 5 at large candidates should be the candidates that get the highest percentage. OR the top ten go to a run off. Then the top 5 in the general election get the 5 at large positions.

Please consider it. Write about it? Why not elect the 5 city council at large seats via proportional voting?

The starred ones got the most votes in each individual election and (even though some face run offs) will probably be our at-large representatives. How do you think it would change if we got proportional representation ?

Gary Barrett (REP)

Connell A. Crooms (NPA)

Jack Daniels (REP)

Terrance Freeman (REP)

**Lisa King (DEM)

**Darren Mason (DEM)

Ron Salem (REP)

**Tommy Hazouri (DEM)

James C. Jacobs (DEM)

Greg Rachal (REP)

**Matt Carlucci (REP)

Harold McCart (REP)

Don Redman (REP)

Niki Brunson (NPA)

Chad Evan McIntyre (DEM)

**Samuel Newby (REP)

quote from link:

The basic principles underlying proportional representation elections are that all voters deserve representation and that all political groups in society deserve to be represented in our legislatures in proportion to their strength in the electorate. In other words, everyone should have the right to fair representation.

https://www.fairvote.org/how_proportional_representation_elections_work

I do miss Tessa Duvall and Tia Mitchell. I admit I unsubscribed to the TU when they endorsed Trump. I re-subscribed when the Morris family sold the paper. I don't think the paper should endorse candidates. I think they should give us enough facts so we can make our own decision. Only 14% of Jacksonville's registered voters just elected Lenny Curry. So what about the other 86%? Were they psst that the TU endorsed Curry? Endorsing candidates is alienating and makes readers question the paper's objectivity. No? I'm not saying they shouldn't have some biased reporters that give us opinion pieces but that's clear and we know their bias.

Thursday, March 21|Report this