“They will be reduced to websites with just a small amount of local news, much of which will be determined by assignment and editing from afar.”
Jim Hopkins is the founder and editor of Gannett Blog, the leading media trade blog site about the nation’s largest newspaper company, Gannett Company. Gannett, of course, is the owner of the USA Today and 82 other daily newspapers in the United States, including five papers in the Gret Stet of Louisiana: The Shreveport Times, The Monroe News-Star, The Lafayette Advertiser, The Opelousas Daily World, and The Alexandria Town Talk.
Jim, a graduate of Brown University, knows a thing or two about Gannett. He spent over twenty years working at Gannett as both a journalist and an editor, the last eight of which were at the USA Today. Since launching Gannett Blog in 2007, Jim has kept a close and keen eye on his former employer, and in doing so, he’s helped shed significant light on Gannett’s digital transition and the ways in which corporate decisions affect local communities, Gannett employees, and the delivery of the news.
Last Friday, my friend Daniel and I were interviewed for a documentary about the American Way (which will be the subject of another post), and we both spoke, at length, about how Gannett’s ownership fundamentally changed our hometown newspaper, The Town Talk. Afterward, I reached out to Jim Hopkins and asked if he’d be willing to answer a few questions, and thankfully, he was happy to oblige.
Lamar: The Town Talk was founded in 1883, which makes it one of the longest continuously operating newspapers in the entire country. They were the first newspaper in the entire State of Louisiana to become computerized– way, way back when “computerized” was a word that actually meant something. There’s an entire book about the history of The Town Talk. To me, The Town Talk was always more than just a newspaper; it was a civic institution. In 1996, Central Newspapers bought The Town Talk for $62 million from the local family that had owned it from the very beginning, and shortly thereafter, Gannett bought Central Newspapers. Today, it seems like a shell of its former self. It’s no longer a civic institution. Their printing press buildings, which eat up an enormous footprint along our river, are all closed. Our paper is now printed nearly 100 miles away. The people who work there are now in constant fear of losing their jobs. And of course, because it’s the only newspaper in town, this is not reported properly. What should we blame for the decline of the newspaper as a civic institution? Is it the Internet? Is it corporate consolidation?
Jim: There are multiple factors. Readers, especially young readers have been abandoning newspapers for several decades. The Internet accelerated that trend.