The end of summer usually indicates the start of something. For students, it’s the start of a new school year. For coffee drinkers, it’s the start of Pumpkin Spice Latte. For Halloween lovers, it’s the start of their favorite holiday.
For me, the end of summer came with two big announcements: GateHouse Media and Gannett were going to merge and become the largest U.S. newspaper company, and E&P was going to be sold to media consultant Mike Blinder. How are these two related? Well, keep reading.
Let’s start with GateHouse and Gannett. We’ve heard murmurs about the deal for awhile now, but it was in early August when news broke that the two companies had agreed to merge. The combined company plans to take on the Gannett name, and together will have a print of circulation of 8.7 million, according to media analyst Ken Doctor.
In his Newsonomics column for Nieman Lab, Doctor said there were certain synergies for this sort of deal, including vendor savings, corporate and shared services, combining ad and digital marketing services, and editorial consolidation. We’re already seeing some of those changes trickle in. Shortly after the merger was announced, MediaPost reported that GateHouse had let go of more than two dozen newsroom employees from at least 10 newspapers. Some of those newsrooms included the Oklahoman, Palm Beach Post, Cape Cod Times and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. Then, in September, GateHouse closed two Arkansas publications, the Helena-West Helena World and the Stuttgart Daily Leader.
Also in September, one of Gannett’s largest newspapers, the Arizona Republic, launched a unionization effort, “(signaling) a broader effort to unionize papers before the deal to combine the two chains is completed,” wrote Jonathan O’Connell of the Washington Post.
“Gannett and GateHouse are under intense pressure by investors to find an estimated $300 million in annual cost savings as part of the $1.4 billion deal,” he wrote. “That has prompted concerns among staff at the two companies’ more than 250 daily newspapers and hundreds of weekly and community papers…”
And O’Connell is right—they should be concerned. As GateHouse and Gannett slash their way to profitability, what will happen to the local journalism they produce? Most likely, we will see less of it. But I hope that’s not the case. We need local journalism more than ever.
That brings me to that second big announcement—the sale of E&P. I arrived at E&P a year after Duncan McIntosh had purchased the magazine. I’ve learned a lot—and I mean, a lot—about the news industry, and I know there’s more to learn, which is why I’m excited about this new season.
The magazine’s new owner is no stranger to the industry. As a media consultant, Mike has trained hundreds of newsrooms for more than 20 years. When I met Mike, he shared his passionate vision for E&P’s future. He wants to expand our coverage to not only include newspapers, but all aspects of news publishing. That includes television news and digital news outlets. He wants to add more multimedia platforms to our brand, such as podcasting and voice, so that we can reach a wider audience. All of that sounded good to me. The more publishers we can help, the better.
Mike also shared with me (and with Fortune magazine) his concern about “the ongoing erosion of local news.”
“We are in a crisis when it comes to local news,” he told Fortune’s David Z. Morris. “Who’s serving the smaller communities and being the watchdog of the town?”
There’s no doubt that this deal between GateHouse and Gannett will cost these towns to lose some of those watchdogs. And that’s where the two big announcements intersect—we’re only starting to see the effects of the merger, but through it all, E&P will still be here as the voice in the news industry, as we have been for the past 135 years.