You might say there was a lot of news last week.
I am not talking about the assassination of the Iranian big shot/bad guy that threw the Middle East/Europe and much of the rest of the world into a tizzy. That incident sent both our national papers and talking TV heads into overdrive speculation mode, as they tried to figure out what happened, and what might come next. Many predicted either a wide-armed conflict or cyber attacks. I fear we may already, shudder, be at war.
I am also not talking about the Washington political blood feud that sent our national government into impeachment frenzy as we all went back to the Constitution to figure out what comes next. Instead of going behind closed doors and working out the mechanics, Republican and Democratic leaders delivered speeches at each other. Last time I checked, playing “Whack-A-Mole” with verbal brickbats never solved anything, much less a major Constitutional crisis. These events have the potential to turn our world, and the nation, upside down, including endangering our retirements and the price we pay at the gas station.
But in the wake of all of last week’s head-shaking news stories, you may have missed another major event – one that will affect us all. It was the announcement that after March 2, many Maine residents will no longer receive a Monday morning newspaper. Lisa DiSisto, the chief executive of Masthead Maine, said that is when the company will no longer print the Monday editions of the Portland Press Herald, Lewiston Sun Journal, Waterville Morning Sentinel and Augusta’s Kennebec Journal. They will be available online as an e-paper for subscribers.
She said the move was necessary to save money in the face of declining revenues and rising health insurance costs. Axing the Monday paper, the smallest of the week which brings in the least amount of advertising, will provide cost savings and preserve about 10 jobs, she said.
Now, it is no secret that since the advent of the internet, the news business is changing. The press lords who owned major newspapers no longer rule the roost. The papers they once held have been weakened by the internet and sold to investment groups that, while giving lip service to freedom of the press, they always answer to the whims of market value.
Last November, Gannett, the publisher of USA Today and 100 newspapers, merged with New GateHouse, which owns about 400 papers. The merger will allow them to control one of every six American newspapers. They predicted they would be able to generate $200 million in savings by passing out pink slips like M&Ms.
It is no secret that significant newsroom layoffs have already happened, and lots of my old colleagues are on the street. What does that mean for you and me? It means that veteran City Hall reporters who kept an eye on politicians, developers, contractors, and vendors are no longer on the job.
It means that other veteran reporters who combed courtrooms and police stations have been laid off, too.
Why do we care? We always have Channels 6,8, 13, 40, 35, and the rest of the TV spectrum to report the news. The national network outlets do a pretty good job of covering the big stuff, despite being attacked by politicians who treat them like rabid sports fans treat referees when the home team loses the big game. But the local stations have always depended upon the local newspapers. It is not a secret that they frequently see a local newspaper story and send in a reporter to check it out, shoot a bit of film (usually of police cars with their flashing red and blue lights twirling), recite the facts, and throw it back to the TV anchor desk.
Now, that is an oversimplification. But it does happen. Fortunately for us, Maine is blessed to have some skilled broadcast reporters.
As we go about our daily lives, we concentrate on family, friends and work. We don’t have time to check out local and state governments. Since colonial times, we have always depended on the local newspapers to do that job for us. If current trends continue, I wonder how much longer we will be able to depend on this invaluable service.