Gannett, Inc.: The StarPress is a Sinking Ship

MUNCIE, Indiana – The newspaper industry continues to let out warning signs of its demise all over the nation. Profits have been falling for decades due to lack of advertising causing staff reductions which means we get less reporting, which leads to declining value, etc. As you can see, it’s a death spiral which has gone on since the advent of digital and the internet. It’s not going to improve.

The Gannett owned StarPress is no different. The newspaper giant continues to bleed out, but their media counterparts aren’t too quick to point it out. The AP reported, “Gannett Co. said Tuesday that its fourth-quarter net income dropped 12 percent, partially a result of the absence of the record-high political advertising that boosted its results a year earlier.”  The AP pretty much stayed with that story line even though it completely ignores reality.

When we head over to the journalism experts, we find a different story.  Joshua Benton from Nieman Journalism Lab writes, “To put it starkly: Barring a significant change, newspapers will make less in 2014 than they did in 2013, less in 2015 than in 2014, and so on. The trendlines are not changing.

As a side note, Gannett is one of the media companies who accepts millions in negative political attack ads, but has been slow to adhere to the transparency requirements requested by the FEC and FCC. They want to protect the “non-profits” who are buying millions in negative attack ads. Journalistic entities are supposed to hold our government sector accountable through more transparency while our government is holding accountable the private sector.

They use political ads to bolster revenues…now you know why the media likes to create all the crisis within our political environment. A crisis invokes political spending. Think about it for a moment. When the government shut down several months back, the public got swamped by political campaigners wanting money to “fight the democrats” or “push through republican obstruction.” All the money raised is used to place attack ads against the opponent, yet hopes a real journalist cannot trace the origin of the money.

See how this little scam works?

Despite the political window dressing and the one time shot in the arm by implementing paywalls, the industry is dying like the horse and buggy did via the automobile.

As Joshua concludes from the analysis of Gannett’s 2013 financial report and phone calls with the CEO of Gannett:

That Gannett — the largest newspaper company in America; the company that mastered the profit margin; the amalgamator of family papers — would be thinking of tossing its newspapers overboard tells you all you need to know about where most of the American newspaper business is headed.

The newspaper industry can blame the advent of the internet and digital media for its demise, but there is still a fundamental problem within the media industry – it’s no longer the journalism entity which serves citizens, but is a tool of the powerful to shape information to control the masses. What used to be called journalism has morphed into the media industry which is nothing more than propaganda for those in the boardroom to convey the message they want told.

While it’s easy to sit by and watch the local StarPress circle the drain, a more proactive role would be for Delaware County leaders to start planning for replacing the StarPress now.

Remember, the role of journalism is to serve the public (serve the democracy) by holding the public sector accountable thus preventing abuse of power. They’ve ignored that obligation for nearly 40 years. As it turns out, the Oligarchs were buying up media companies around the same time they found out how easily it was to influence our political leaders. The combination of losing our journalists and government servants, meant our democracy no longer functioned as our founders intended.

The StarPress has been part of the conservative media empire that has dominated Indiana’s landscape for decades begging the question: “Are Hoosiers truly conservative or do those controlling the media in Indiana want us to be conservative?”

Think about that one for a second.

Once the hometown newspaper stopped serving local citizens and started serving the interests of Gannett shareholders, our community became influenced by outsiders. They can claim that local Editors kept our paper local, but the editors and the executives serve the companies who pay for expensive advertisements since those dollars pay the rent and wages locally, but the rest goes to McLean to pay CEO salaries and shareholders.

The demand of ever higher returns on Wall Street combined with the declining trends of newspaper revenue will put the newspaper model in a precarious position of being cast overboard to save the parts of the company which do make money.

We should not wait until they’ve left the community before we do something. The board of directors, and CEO Gracia Martore, will not call and ask us for our opinion on what they should do, so maybe it would be prudent to make a plan.

Here are a few simple questions to get you thinking about the issue:

  • Who will pay for the journalism component? Should it be paid for by both the public and private sectors and then free to the reader?
  • Would the editorial board consist solely of citizens or a mix of citizens and public-private sector?
  • What other content do we want covered i.e. sports, non-profits, schools, etc.
  • What percent of the media should be state and national, if any?
  • Who will handle the classified ads, or do we need them?
  • Do we really need a police blotter or Busted section?

We’ve been watching how the media and journalism industry is reshaping itself nationally and new models are sprouting up all across the landscape. We should be creative and not hesitate to collaborate with the communication and technology fields at Ball State to help shape our 21st Century Community Media Model. This really needs to be a citizen led restructure funded by a combination of public and private sectors.

We look forward to hearing from you in our comment section or send us an email to:

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Todd Smekens

Journalist, consultant, publisher, and servant-leader with a passion for truth-seeking. Enjoy motorcycling, meditation, and spending quality time with my daughter and rescue hound. Spiritually-centered first and foremost. Lived in multiple states within the USA and frequent traveler to the mountains.

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