The list of daily newspapers that have shut down grows more rapidly by the year, not to mention those that have had massive layoffs. Today, another of America’s oldest dailies, the Vindicator, which serves Youngstown, Ohio, said its last edition would be on August 31. The paper had just celebrated its 150th anniversary. The local television station reported that 144 people will lose their jobs.
The Vindicator was of modest size by daily newspaper standards. It claimed 100,000 online and newspaper readers. Like many papers, it has been owned by a family. Due to unsustainable losses, the Maag-Browns could not find a buyer. Nor could they afford to keep the doors open. Publisher Betty Brown Jagnow and General Manager Mark Brown wrote, “It is with broken hearts that we say goodbye and a final thank you.” It was not unlike the statements by so many newspaper owners have penned recently.
The shuttering of the Vindicator comes just as the New Orleans Times-Picayune merges into the New Orleans Advocate. Virtually the entire Times-Picayune staff lost their jobs.
MediaNews Group, famous for its newspaper cost-cutting, recently sliced about a third of the jobs at the Reading Eagle. It is also 150 years old. MediaNews has sliced jobs from Denver to Boston. The company made an unsuccessful run at a buyout of Gannett, an effort the Gannett board killed just weeks ago.
And the problem of cuts in the newspaper industry has become an epidemic. A Pew study last year showed that “At least 36% of the largest newspapers across the United States – as well as at least 23% of the highest-traffic digital-native news outlets – experienced layoffs between January 2017 and April 2018.”
The largest newspaper chains in America have not fared much better. All have had cut jobs. Those that are public have watched their stock prices drop by a quarter to a half in the past year. Revenue at these chains continues to drop 6% to 10% a year, with no end in sight.
American newspapers can now largely be put into three groups. Those owned by small local companies, like the Vindicator. Those bought by the very rich, such as Jeff Bezos at the Washington Post. Newspapers in Boston, Las Vegas, Salt Lake and Minneapolis are fortunate to have similar relations. Finally, there are the chains, which continue to try to pick the lock of successful turnarounds.
Ultimately, the Vindicator had one other weakness. Youngstown, a formerly busy American factory city, has lost much of its population, and many of those who remain live in poverty. It has become one of America’s fastest shrinking cities.