Historic newspaper falls to corporate America

A piece of my background and history shuttered its doors last week.

The Carthage Press became the latest victim of how Gatehouse Media operates its business. The model is one they have been doing for 10-plus years, from the time when I worked for the company at the Neosho Daily News. They buy papers by the handful, then slash the staff in hopes of turning a profit.

The workers that remain suffer due to the increase workload with no increase in pay. The readers suffer since that same staff is too thinly stretched to cover multiple towns and multiple school districts. After a while, the numbers drop, Gatehouse can’t pay the bills and they file for bankruptcy.

And, then once they get out of bankruptcy, they go back to buying papers. Rinse, repeat.

Well, about two weeks ago they went to newspapers across Missouri with the goal of cutting costs. They offered almost every writer in the state a severance package of five paid days for each year they worked for the company.

Shortly after that offer was made, the decision was made to close The Carthage Press, a newspaper that has been around for the past 134 years. That is a lot of history that is now gone.

The paper was the first one to give me a full-time job and while I wasn’t there long, the town and the memories I developed being a young and very green writer remain.

When the decision was made to shut the paper down, two of my friends lost a job — the only two writers left. Years ago, when I worked there we had five people in the newsroom. Over the years, the paper went from printing daily to printing weekly.

But, I also started there when we had to use actual film to shoot photos and then take it to the darkroom to develop it. That was so long ago that many writers in today’s business never had to do it.

So, I guess the fact I have made it almost 20 years without a paper shutting its doors is a nice thing.

I now have friends who have witnessed it and they join a long list of friends shown the door not on their own accord.

The changing landscape in journalism and media plays a big part in that. Everyone says newspapers are dying. I don’t quite buy into that. They aren’t dying so long as you find ways to stay competitive and find things people want to read.

Just imagine what it would be like to live in a town where you have no idea what your city council is doing? For that matter, your school board or county commission. What would it be like to have a child in high school playing sports but you have no way to see photos of games or read recaps?

To me, that would be sad for many reasons. At the end though, it is a business and you have to make money to pay bills and pay checks. Some papers are struggling and the problem is local and nationwide.

The Kansas City Star has chosen to not have any full-time writers cover high school football games. Instead, they rely on stringers. Nothing is wrong with that — heck, we use stringers too — but when a paper is that big and a staff that large it is a shame. When I was a young writer, I would pick up the Star every Saturday to see two or three pages of coverage. I loved how they had giant photos, covered four or five games and got state scores from both Missouri and Kansas.

And not that long ago, the Star, by way of its parent company McClatchy, made another round of layoffs and one of my friends got his pink slip. He is a hell of a writer but became the victim in a number crunch that will only put more money in some big wig’s pocket.

Years and years ago, the Star’s sports staff had more numbers than most Class 1 football rosters. Now, they are a shell of that and a changing industry is why.

In recent months, the New York Daily News laid off half of its staff including many notable faces you see on ESPN talking about Yankees, Giants, Jets or Mets. The Denver Post cut its newsroom by a third earlier this year.

Newsnomics.com noted that total revenues from some of the major newspapers owners are suffering. Tronc has seen a 11 percent dip. McClatchy is next at 9.2 percent. Gannett is at 7.5, while Gatehouse is at 4.9 percent.

In term of circulation, Gannett (5.0) and McClatchy (5.7) had the largest dips, while Gatehouse fell 2.1 percent.

A week prior to shutting the doors at The Carthage Press, Gatehouse closed two weekly papers in Arkansas.

A big hurdle for papers big and small was a tariff imposed by the Trump administration, which raised the cost of the paper used to print the paper. CBS News said that 70 percent of papers in the United States rely on imports from Canada and the cost had risen by more than 30 percent. I have a friend who is still at Gatehouse and told me the cost there was 40 percent more this year than last year.

The price increase, in some locations, led to changes in staffing, while others saw reduction in how big the paper was.

A small victory happened last week when the International Trade Commission voted to reverse the tariffs imposed earlier this year. Great news, but for some, it came too late.

“This is a great victory for the entire newspaper industry,” Missouri Press Association executive director Mark Massen said in an email to members. “The Missouri Press Association thanks all who were involved in this effort. A special thanks goes out to those who fought so hard to reverse this tariff, including Missouri’s Senators and Congressmen for their support. Above all, our members’ readers thank everyone who worked to overturn these tariffs. They are the real victors here as we continue to publish a free press.”