A big chunk of the state’s newspaper industry swapped hands last week, and it’s anybody’s guess what that will mean.
I certainly hope it means an improvement in journalism. There are some reasons to hope, but in the long run it all comes down to you. Back to that in a minute.
Cherry Road Technologies, a New Jersey technology consulting company that appears to have previously focused on government work, bought 13 publications in Kansas, including the longstanding daily papers in Garden City, Hays, Ottawa and Dodge City. Essentially, Cherry Road Media bought out the operations of Gannet/GateHouse, which was the successor in many ways to the Harris family’s group of newspapers, among others.
Gannett/GateHouse did not sell the papers in Salina or Topeka, or for that matter Hutchinson. That company, the country’s largest operator of newspapers, obviously decided to focus on larger markets, and dump the ones in smaller communities across Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri.
Cherry Road may, in fact, bring new technological and management resources to bear on our industry, and we hope that helps. The company’s CEO has said that’s the plan. Communities across the state need more and better journalism to inform their citizens. The Gannett/GateHouse agenda has been, quite simply, to cut expenses. And while some new efforts are taking shape elsewhere to provide that service, nothing has yet emerged to replace the kind of professional reporting that newspapers have provided for generations.
Not that we’re immune or somehow more virtuous here in Manhattan. The long decline in local print advertising — sucked up by gigantic digital outfits like Google and Facebook — has sped up in the pandemic, and that has shaken the foundations of the business we’re in. Meanwhile there are opportunities for more efficient distribution; those factors have combined to mean a conversion of print Mercurys into digital editions. You’re well aware of that by now. We print the paper three days a week, and we publish electronically the other four. That’s more editions than ever, and more timely reporting, but to those of you accustomed to print, it’s a reduction, and there’s no sense flim-flamming around about that.
We remain locally owned and operated, and we’re committed to building a sustainable future providing a service the community needs. The exact nature of that service is changing, and will probably change more quickly tomorrow than it is today.
But ultimately, the success of Cherry Road Technologies in this industry — or your Manhattan Mercury, for that matter — depends on the answer to one question: Will people pay for independent, professional journalism to inform them about their communities?
Which is really to say the question is: Are people interested in facts? Or are they interested only in information-bites that support their previously-held political convictions? Or, alternatively, do they just not really care, other than the gossip that forms the basis of Facebook?
Those are profound questions, and there are powerful forces working against us in this industry, whether it’s us here in Manhattan or a New Jersey outfit operating the paper in Hays. The question of survivability, in the end, comes down to what you want.