Local media continues to taking hit after hit nationwide. Small-town newspapers and radio are being bought for pennies on the dollar nationwide for the sole purpose of turning corporate profits. In 1996 the Telecommunications Act changed radio landscape dramatically, allowing for deregulation, which has led to rapid consolidation in the radio industry. Currently, about 10 parent companies control about two-thirds of the airwaves. Newspapers are currently experiencing the same issue.
In Springfield today, NewsGuild-CWA hopes to raise awareness of the issue of the 50 GateHouse Media newspapers in 14 states will be losing local coverage due to a merger with Gannett. Chairman of the local NewsGuild in Springfield, Dean Olsen, who writes for the Springfield State Journal Register hopes that the event will raise awareness that if local media goes away, the effect is profound. “We really believe we need to preserve a local newspaper. To do that, you have to have local jobs with local people. We are dealing with a company, GateHouse Media, that has really been ramping up its interest in cutting back on news operations. We believe that’s unnecessary and that the company should be focused on journalism, not so much on padding their profit margin. We are leafleting out in front of those newspaper outlets today to tell GateHouse that we believe they should not be gutting news operations because local journalism is what readers and listeners want. We want to preserve that.”
Olsen explains why local media is so important. “Local news coverage is particularly important now because GateHouse is looking to merge with another huge newspaper organization called Gannett. As part of that merger, GateHouse has told federal regulators that it plans to cut as much as $300 million a year from this combined company. We are just worried that there are going to be even more cuts. All of these cuts will effect individuals in Springfield but they also effect readers and the public throughout Central Illinois because we are one of the larger news operations. The watchdog function that we serve as journalists serves the public. It’s been proven in studies that there is a value in taxation, in quality of life, by having an aggressive press. It can be a watchdog over local institutions, local governments and we don’t want that watchdog function to be lost.”
Olsen says that he’s unaware locally how many journalists will eventually be cut after the merger. He says Gate House has already cut several managers who are not covered by the News Guild. However, if journalists are eventually laid off he expects local coverage to evaporate. He says that the company has always told employees that the Journal Register has been profitable but the profits haven’t stayed locally, but rather to corporate ownership and in stockholder dividends sent to the State of New York.
Olsen gives readers a pathway to petition ownership to stop the local cuts and preserve local media coverage. “We have had many readers complain to us that they are being charged more for their subscriptions, either online or in print, and are getting less and less out of it. We are calling on the community to tell GateHouse that they need to stop the cutting and preserve journalism. We are asking them to go to our website which is www.springfieldguild.wordpress.com or on Facebook at Save the SJR. There’s a link to a website where you can automatically send an email to a top GateHouse official about this problem. That’s what we are calling on people to do with this leafleting.”
Olsen says the danger of large conglomerated media’s homogenized news coverage is a lack of a good explanation that only local media can provide. “When you don’t have people who are trained on how to gather the facts, how to present the facts in an unbiased way to provide a needed analysis; you just get a bunch of opinions being thrown back and forth on social media. It doesn’t brink the community together. It actually hinders communities from solving problems because issues aren’t fully explained. That’s our concern. When you lack the local flavor in a news organization like ours, the overall community suffers not just the people that work at the newspaper.”
The mega merger between Gannett and GateHouse Media is expected to be completed by Thanksgiving. The news media market products across 265 locations throughout the United States are expected to be under one umbrella by January 1st.