There are hundreds of Evan Brandts in our industry today, doing their jobs alone or in a greatly reduced newsroom, working the same beats covered by tens or hundreds more just a few years ago.
It’s easy to cite the reasons for the growth of what many today call "ghost papers," where a community is being underserved in local news coverage. Some blame it on the unregulated "Big Tech" industry that monetizes content while also absorbing local advertising revenues that rightly belong to the news publisher. Others call it evolution, where "survival of the fittest" is tested as legacy media adapts to a multimedia culture. And many blame the corporate greed of hedge funds, which found a quick way to generate short-term profits, by buying up local newspapers and selling off their assets, with little regard for the mission to their local communities — providing that independent, constitutionally-mandated "check on power."
Before his April 2022 appearance on "60 Minutes," odds are you never even heard of Evan Brandt unless you lived over the past 25-plus years in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, a suburban Philadelphia community of 40,000 plus. Brandt has worked as a reporter for The Mercury, one of the 160-plus titles under the control of Media News Group, a company owned by the hedge fund Alden Global Capital.
And Evan Brandt has one significant distinction over the other overworked journalists working alone in downsized newsrooms. His union contract protects his employment, allowing him to speak out about how his once robust newspaper has been bought and sold by companies in and out of bankruptcy, leaving him alone without an office within the town he reports on.
And speaking out is what Evan has done, writing numerous pieces for The News Guild-Communication Workers of America and being interviewed by publications like The New York Times, PBS and Mother Jones about how corporate downsizing has affected his hometown. Brandt even drove his Corolla to the Long Island mansion of Heath Freeman, managing director of Alden Global Capitol, wearing his #News Matters tee shirt and carrying a sign his wife made him that said, "Invest in us or Sell us!"
In this episode of "E&P Reports," we go one-on-one with the outspoken reporter for Media News Group's Pottstown (PA) Mercury, Evan Brandt, where we explore what it is like to be the last local journalist remaining at this "ghost paper" that serves a suburban Philadelphia community of over 40,000. Brandt offers insight into his 25+ years at The Mercury, the several ownership bankruptcies that created years of serial downsizing, and how today he works out of his own attic to cover beats once reported on by a team of 30+ reporters.
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